Among Amazons

AMONG AMAZONS
(the novel)

1985, 2002 and 2009 by Louise Richardson

"San Francisco"

San Francisco, alien city,
Your winds blow warm and cold
Like the faces of your people.
My passions rise and settle
With the drift of your mist.
You have welcomed me wholly
Only to snub me in your streets;
I exist through your benevolence
Yet your whims deny my being.
I am both one with your spirit
And nothing to your numb heart.
I will win you, be assured.
You will love me yet.
I have learned your fickle moods;
They cannot faze me now.
I turn my face to your changing gusts
And bear the wind and the rain.
They cannot erode my new-flowered self;
They cannot erase my naked soul.
I pour and I flow with your elements
Now that I know I'm whole!"

CHAPTER ONE

Hector Sabinal was on the run. He was not a coward but he knew the other warriors would think he was, riding far from the vast Comanche tribal lands to the pueblos of the Apache and the Hopi. The United States Cavalry would think he was a coward, or maybe some kind of sneaky Comanch slipping away to turn around and plot a scalping or some other kind of terror on their noble but helpless white settlers streaming through West Texas after the American Civil War. Hector just wanted a life of his own with a family and a little plot of land where they could be left to raise maize and peppers, and maybe a few pigs and goats.

He could see the hopelessness of his people's cause, and of his own plight. The choices were to fight until the last warrior was vanquished, retire to an impoverished and dreary reservation in the Indian Territory, or to roam forever the Chihuahuan Desert or other desolate regions on both sides of the Rio Bravo, alone and unsung.

Hector had his advantages, though, and the drive to exercise them. As a boy he had attended a mission school in Del Rio, albeit under duress, where he had learned to read and write Spanish. He had even become a model student, taking the name "Hector" that the monks had given him, excelling at the tasks of farming and irrigating, and seeming to be "civilized" as a proper christian youth, until he and the other young Comanche attendees were liberated by a raiding party of their tribe.

In those times there was still hope the European onslaught could be stopped. It took a decade or two for the realization to set in, as it had long before to the peoples of the East, that there was a never-ending supply of whites. The shear numbers of these aliens were more than Hector's people could fathom.

The Anglos were the worst of the invaders because they were just plain crazy. The Spanish, and later the Mexicans, did not care for these dry thorny lands north of the Rio Bravo, mostly because of the Comanche raids. Hector's people had dominated the region for centuries, especially since they discovered the horses those whites had brought with them from Europe. No tribe, native or intruder, was safe while the Comanches reigned. That all changed when the Americans started trickling in.

If these Americans wanted land, they came, they killed, they died in the pursuit of it. They did not stop; they would kill or be killed until they could get a foothold. The Mexican Army and the United States Cavalry were ineffective at first but a small band of crazy Texans, called the Rangers, would attack native villages by night, slaughtering men, women and children without mercy until the real military was in a position to clean up the stragglers. Of course, the Comanches were no less ruthless but Hector didn't think they were as crazy as the Texans.

Hector and his tribe fought the good fight until there were few left, and suicide or internment were the only alternatives. He was weary of the slaughter. He was getting older. His people were all but extinct. There had to be a better life even at the edge of the white man's world. If only he could find a wife, farm a small piece of land, and raise a family, he felt he could survive with some sense of honor.

Was he a traitor to his race, his family, his way of life? Hector would be haunted by that doubt all his life, and by the spectre of discovery by his own people and by the overbearing whites.

CHAPTER TWO

At work, before her Twenty-first Century computer in the Admissions Office at the University of the Gulf, the fantasy just ran away with Laura Sabinal. She had to get on with her typing but she saw herself starting her life all over again, the right way this time. It was ridiculous. It was science fiction. On the other hand, Laura herself was science fiction, she had to admit.

There were these "makeover" shows on television about people who would spend fortunes to sculpt their bodies toward an image of perfection. Most of these people should have saved their money. They looked fine in the first place. Maybe if you had a cleft palate or huge bags under your eyes or you were a couple of hundred pounds overweight extreme surgeries were in order, but why put yourself through all the pain and expense for a chin implant or bigger breasts? Well, maybe Laura should have boosted her bust when she had the chance. Never mind. What she had was adequate. It was enough. But still...

In the daydream Laura had been in a terrible car crash. She was in the hospital on life support. About the only organ she had still working was her brain. There was a newly pregnant young woman in the same hospital ward, also on life support, in just the opposite condition. If only the two of them could get together, combine. The doctors approached the young woman's family to break the news about her being brain dead. They just might, however, have a radical plan which would preserve the baby and another life as well, namely Laura's. It would be a risky course of action, but hey, they both would die otherwise. Laura's head was a bit large but they would transplant part of her cranium with the brain. In the daydream it all seemed so reasonable, and it carried her through a boring afternoon at work.

It was never going to happen, of course, even if medical science were to advance to such a point. Besides, Laura had had her makeover, and it had taken her this far. Who really wants to be twenty again at sixty? Most people, really, but not Laura. Maybe forty. If you are healthy and have your wits about you, you might as well savor your history, she believed. Would she have given up the Beatles for the latest American Idol? Not likely.

She wouldn't have given up the Beatles for anything. However, the Disco Era had been a complete write off to her except that it was her new beginning. Whenever she reread her poem "San Francisco", the paper now yellowed with time, it all came back to her in a disco beat, not so much the soundtrack of "Saturday Night Fever" as that of "Looking for Mr. Goodbar". She remembered buzzing a stranger's apartment in San Francisco's Tenderloin District. A voice that could have originated in Brooklyn or Philadelphia or Detroit, and one that was somewhere between adolescent boy and menopausal woman, whined through the intercom.

"Who is it?"

"I'm Laura Sabinal," she answered, "I'm looking for Alice Sutter."

"I'm Nicole. Alice ain't here now, girl."

"Alice wrote me I could stay with her."

"I don't know, girl," Nicole said, "We gotta be careful...She'll be back from the market soon, though, if you could wait out there."

"Okay," Laura told her, feeling a chill in the fog, and perhaps some raindrops, "Tell Alice I'll find a hotel for tonight."

She coughed from the cigarette cloud that foreshadowed Alice Sutter's arrival. Alice's nasally husky voice came from behind a telescoping stack of filled grocery bags, with two free fingers scissoring a smoldering cigarette. An eye and a strand of brown wig peeked out from behind a shaft of celery atop the ziggurat of brown paper.

"You're looking for Alice Sutter?," Alice asked Laura, half coughing, herself, and shifting her wig, "I'm Alice."

"I'm Laura. You wrote me I could stay with you until I got settled."

"Right," Alice replied, "Laura from Texas."

"New Mexico really," Laura corrected, "I went to college in Texas."

Alice pushed an apartment button as best she could with her left elbow.

"Yeah?" It was Nicole again.

"It's Alice, Nicole. Can you buzz me in? My arms are full."

"Somebody's lookin' for ya, Alice."

"I know. She's here with me."

"Okay, girl." The front door opened with a "thunk".

"Laura," Alice sighed, "Could you get the door?"

"Sure," Laura said, and she did.

Laura hadn't had a roommate since college, or the army, both in another life. She rewrote those college years in her mind. From this point on she would remember UTEP, the University of Texas at El Paso, differently. Slightly. She would "recall" to friends and strangers the women's dormitory and her girlfriends there, and maybe some guy she went out with a couple of times, not really on a date, of course. The two army years were excised completely from her history. How could she say she was drafted? That just wouldn't do. Of course, there were women in the Army, but Laura didn't feel like making over those memories. It was best to toss them out with the whole Vietnam War, not that she was ever sent overseas.

A new life meant new clothes. You could be anything in jeans and turtlenecks. The beige mailorder suit dress would tell the world she was a woman, or was supposed to be. So dark, slender, and maybe a little too tall given her ethnic background, plus heavily made up and dressed to the nines, Laura sought out local, state and federal resources to find a job, get a new driver's license and change her name on her Social Security card. She was oblivious to anyone on the streets who might have questioned her identity. She came to know that being oblivious was her way to survive. Being oblivious and naive eventually got her through sixty plus years.

*******

In her Twenty-first Century daydreaming, Laura thought of this "transgendered" model she had seen on TV. That one had obviously had some work done. Well, it went without saying. Of course, there were breast implants and hormones and makeup, plus facial sculpturing. There must have been a hundred thousand dollars invested in that young body. She was beautiful. Her voice was not bad. She could pass. She did, except she was forced to acknowledge her background on this reality show, and as far as Laura could ascertain, she had not had THE operation. That didn't make sense to Laura. This girl had the money and she spent it on window dressing? Of course, Laura was old school. What was this whole "transgendered" thing, anyway? As Laura would say under her breath when face to face with someone neither fish nor fowl, "Pick a sex and stay with it, for God's sake!"

The daydream took care of the details. It would be Laura's brain in the late woman's body; no need to do anything else radical. But would she take on the other woman's identity with the permission of the bereaved family? What of her own accomplishments, her graduation from UTEP? So what if she had just barely made it through, aimlessly switching majors from History to English? So what if her degree didn't really point toward a career? It had been her personal struggle. She had earned that particular piece of paper. Maybe after giving birth she would have facial reconstruction to look enough different from the donor woman, more like her old self. Maybe she could have a new identity like someone in the witness protection program. Maybe she would have a guaranteed job at the hospital so the doctors could follow her progress in this medical and social experiment. But did she really want to lose herself, her history, her lifetime?

And she was in her sixties. In twenty years would she have had a young body with an old brain in it? Laura really didn't have a problem with growing old gracefully, if only she were a degree or two more obviously a woman. Her face wasn't bad, she judged. Her breasts were adequate, her legs quite nice. As for the extremities, she had rather not go there. The only real fly in the ointment for her, basically, was that she had no hip development to speak of. Just a little indentation at her waist, and a little flair around the pelvis, would have meant the world to Laura's self- esteem.

Maybe she could actually work toward that goal of becoming more shapely. But how? Diet and exercise? Surgery? Still, if only she could transplant her brain into a suitable body...The daydream was disturbingly Frankensteinian but how else could she have a baby? She had had the presence of mind not to pursue a "normal" life before the sex reassignment. Many did, thinking they would ignore who they were and make their parents, and the world, happy. Laura had read about them many times. These people would stay married after the surgery and their children would have two mothers (or two fathers, as the case may be) and they would have to explain the odd family situation to everyone for the rest of their lives. Laura could not do that. She could not bring a wife and children into her already complex world. She didn't blame those who did. They tried to do the right thing until they could no longer pretend, but at what cost? No, she thought, the only way was her way: go away where you are not known, start a new life, become who you are, and have the best, least complicated existence you can manage.

Transplanting her brain was just a daydream, after all, and even if it were medically possible, Laura was not going to get herself killed trying to achieve it. She was fine as she was.

CHAPTER THREE

Back in the 1970s, Laura stayed as long as she could as Alice Sutter's roommate, sleeping on an old army cot and helping with the rent. During that time Laura found a job as a receptionist/typist/file clerk at the Tenderloin Counseling Center, which she had been frequenting to gleen information about matters transsexual, anyway.

Laura and Alice ate well because Alice had a tremendous appetite, and she liked to cook, albeit on an illicit hotplate hidden from the landlady. Laura had a healthy enough liking for food, herself, but she could not keep pace with the portions Alice dished out, and at such late hours.

One morning Laura hadn't been able to sleep due to the half a pound of meatloaf which Alice had served up the night before, so she showered, dressed for the day, sat up on her cot cross-legged, her back supported by a cold cinder block wall, and wrote another one of her soul- searching poems.

"A Short Ego Trip"

Sometimes I can't believe I'm real.
I'm so many things to so many,
I wonder what I am to me.
Do I show the thoughts I feel?
Am I what I pretend to be?

Then I can't help but inquire
Of crowds I see go by,
Why they seek their selves en masse,
Why they burn low their inner fires,
And cluster like cattle grazing grass.

At times I think I'm going mad,
But I know my method well,
And I never sigh with envy.
Why long for traits I never had?
What's better than what's in me?

During Laura's final editing Alice awoke and sat on the edge of her twin-sized bed. She reached for a pack of unfiltered cigarettes and a book of matches from her nightstand, plopped her wig from its bedstead knob onto her head over the pantyhose skull cap, and lit up a coffin nail. Puffing away, she stood and adjusted the wig in the chest of drawers mirror. Laura was smoked out.

Alice said "Good morning," but all Laura could get out was "Good..." and a cough.

Laura coughed all through getting dressed, throwing on a green turtleneck and a blue denim skirt, making herself up as best she could amid the hacking and the fanning of smoke.

"I'm sorry," Laura wheezed, "I've got to go. See you later."

And with that, she coughed her way to Earthquake Press to hawk her poetry. The small publishing company was a storefront, with very little behind the front. It had once been a local fast food stand specializing in variations of the classic bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. The faded white lettering painted on the dark green front wall still touted the menu:

BELT - bacon, egg, lettuce and tomato - $1.95
BLAT - bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato - $2.95
BLAST - bacon, lettuce, avocado, sprouts and tomato - $3.45
STOMP - Sprouts, tofu, onions, mayonaisse and potato - $2.95

Why that place had gone out of business was a mystery. It seemed like a natural for California. But Earthquake Press was doing well enough with its array of counter-culture tabloids and gay community newsletters. Laura was hoping to get some of her work in an upcoming poetry anthology. The publisher or clerk, or whoever he was, read her poem mockingly.

"'I never sigh with envy,'" he over-enunciated, "'Why long for traits I never had? What's better than what's in me?' Are you serious? You rhyme 'envy' with 'in me?' You'd be better off cutting that last stanza entirely. Anyway, there's no market for these poems."

"I've got other poems," said Laura defensively, thumbing through her composition book and taking out a loose sheet of paper, "Here."

The publisher, or whoever he was, read the next poem with impatience.

"Soliloquy Eye"

So full of myself,
Is there no room in here for someone else?
Am I the beginning and the end of my universe?
If I am not an island,
I must, at least, be a peninsula.
Am I doomed to drown in a flood of introspection?
Or, mayhap, is this existence
Merely a raw apprenticeship,
Initiation for some better calling?
My sense of self worth persists, by God,
And, better still, I know myse1f.
What greater feat is there?
And what if I do interrogate my own soul?
I must surely, therefore, approach the truth.
How many conscious-less bipeds
Have I, incredulous, observed
Shlepping around from day to day,
Never stopping to pursue a thought,
Never wondering "Why?"
And never answering "Why not?"

" 'Why and Why not?,' " he repeated at last, "Wasn't that from a Bobby Kennedy speech? Didn't his brother Teddy quote it at his funeral? And I don't think it originated with Bobby Kennedy either, did it?"

"It's not exactly the same...," Laura said, hurt and derided.

"And," he said, blungeoning her further, "you use words like 'mayhap' and...'schlepp'. Who do you think you are, a jewish Christopher Marlowe? No, I can't use any of these poems...I'm not saying you don't have potential. Who knows, in ten or twenty years...No this isn't for our press...Of course, we have a vanity line. For a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars we can print up dozens of copies of whatever you want."

"No thanks," she said, "I'm saving my money for something else."

"Of course you are. Well, come back when you have something good, something honest, something really personal--but universal. You know."

"Thanks anyway."

What did this clown know about anything? He pronounced "poems" as though it rhymed with "homes". So Laura was no Edna St. Vincent Millay, she would try again elsewhere, and elsewhen, she thought, still the poet. She rationalized she was just there because she needed to get out of Alice's apartment and breathe a more dilute brand of carbon monoxide. Just getting away from Alice's smokehouse was worth the trip. It was definitely time to strike out on her own. She decided to face the gruff woman who managed the apartment house.

Terry, with no particular last name, opened her door just enough and skeptically. "What do you want?" she demanded through the gap restricted by the door chain, "You don't live here, do you?"

Laura backed away as though from a blast of hurricane. "I've been staying with Alice Sutter until I can find my own place," she managed.

"Did I know about that? You can't just stay there, you know."

"That's why I'm here," Laura said with more conviction, "Do you have any vacancies?"

"Come in," said Terry No Last Name, closing the door to unhook the chain, and creaking the door open wide enough to admit Laura.

Laura heard an even gruffer woman's voice from another room. "Where's the goddamned muscatel?" it shouted.

"You know damn well where it is," Terry told her, "Come on out here. We've got a new tenant."

A very scary looking steevadore of a woman, in plaid burmuda shorts and a t-shirt which read "Arvis Furniture Moving", emerged from the darkness with a tumbler in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other, and saying "Well, here's your Dr. Pepper wine cooler."

"This here's Arvis," said Terry No Last Name.

"And you are...," inquired Arvis, now more a concierge than a stevedore.

"Laura. Laura Sabinal."

"Laura's a friend of Alice," Terry said.

Arvis looked Laura up and down. "You don't say. Not bad."

Terry gave a further appraisal. "I think Rhonda would approve."

"Should," agreed Arvis, hugging Terry to her side.

"Well, good," was all Laura could say.

"Rhonda's the owner," Terry noted.

"One of you people," Arvis added.

Terry asked Laura, "You ARE one of 'you people,' aren't ya?"

"Well, I...guess..."

"Got a job?" Arvis wanted to know.

"I'm working full time at the Tenderloin Counseling Center," Laura said, "I've been there over a month now."

Terry took a key ring from her bermuda shorts pocket. "We have a vacant studio on the fourth floor," she said, "There's no elevator, you know."

"I know."

Arvis passed Laura as abruptly as a large cat just deciding to be in another room. "I'm outta Camels," she said in the doorway, "I'm goin' to the store. Excuse me."

With an almost courtly nod to Laura she was down the hallway and gone.

"The Dutchman likes you, and she don't like everybody right off the bat," Terry sniffed.

Laura told her the fourth floor studio, which meant no kitchen, would be just fine.

Laura never would catch Terry's last name. Alice always said Arvis' name was "van Dyke" but that would have been too much on the nose, and besides, who was Alice to give people stereotypical labels?

CHAPTER FOUR

Once in an incredibly cool adobe hut during a hot New Mexico summer the new Family Sabinal thrived down by a stream they called Frio after a river in Texas. Just beyond the flood line Hector plowed his small plot and harvested some corn. Isabel processed the kernels and ground them with mano and metate, hung out the wash in the morning sun, and breast-fed Hector, Jr. all by midday. Hector, Sr. was a dark and nervous and retiring figure in broad sombrero and serape. He rarely spoke, unsure of his Spanish. Isabel spoke for the family whenever necessary but they luckily never had visitors, and almost never walked to the village some fifteen miles upstream. Though he always feared it, Hector and his family were never bothered by the long knives, the calvary, neither by the whites nor the buffalo soldiers, all in army blue. Their family made it through into the Twentieth Century and prospered.

In the Twenty-first Century a descendent, Laura Sabinal, knew so few people she marvelled at her Tenderloin years when she was interacting with new and different people every day. The new millenium was a time of crisis and turmoil for her. After having left the San Francisco Bay Area in the late Seventies she found no permanance in her native New Mexico. She toyed with returning to college in El Paso but she found she had no more enthusiasm toward a career path now than she had had back then. Heading eastward she tried Austin and Houston on for size, working out of temporary employment agencies. Nothing clicked for her. She gave Galveston more than a year of her life. Coming from desert country, as she did, the very thought of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and the vast Atlantic Ocean beyond was really appealing to her. Although she had spent a few years in California, she felt the Pacific was just not hers. If she was going to make it in the world, her destiny was in the East.

Even though she had her initial sexual experiences in Galveston--with an Iranian student from Houston, who left her with a bag of green pestashios, and a young marine corporal as virginally clueless as herself, who hid his wallet too obviously under the throw rug as though Laura were some kind of thieving hooker--it was the Crescent City that finally claimed her. Or maybe she moved on BECAUSE of those first experiences. "Why don't you come?" Mohamad once asked her, or something like that. She had no response. She had had no frame of reference from either side of the sexual fence. "Are you using a diaphragm or something?" Corporal Butchy wanted to know. So what if she wasn't so...deep yet? Well, it was embarrassing and perilous not to have any answers. For whatever reason, it came to pass that it was in mid-1980s New Orleans where she started to put down roots.

She found a duplex in a neighborhood that she would later come to learn was firmly in the flood plain. She got a job as a receptionist in a Garden District photographic studio specializing in school and family portraits. For the first time in her post-San Francisco life she found a friend who was not "one of you people". It was a case of "Don't ask, don't tell." Up to a certain time after those days in San Francisco Laura thought she needed to have someone around who knew her story. However, she came to see that way of thinking as a crutch. Was she forever going to define herself by her transition? If she was a woman, she was going to be a woman, not a former guy. Before New Orleans her life was about getting to square one, where she should have been at birth. New Orleans meant square one and onward.

Nancy was a good jogging buddy and the closest friend she had ever had up to that time, in Laura's don't ask, don't tell sort of way. They both worked in the Garden District of New Orleans and they would ride the St. Charles street car to within a couple of blocks of Nancy's muffaletta shop, jog around the historic homes for half and hour or so, change into their more presentable meet-and-greet-the-public clothes in the store room of the shop, and Laura would stroll the three blocks to her job at the photography studio. Sometimes they would reverse the order of things and jog to the street car in the afternoons, mostly in the cooler half of the year.

They would talk as they jogged and as they rested between jogs. Nancy would tell about how her Daddy was the first black sheriff in the history of Bon Temps, Louisiana, about how she wanted to study grand opera, about how she loved her two preschool children and their mostly absent father, and about the fact that she would never marry him. Laura talked about her Ronald to whom Nancy never did warm up. Laura could understand that, although she thought at first it was because, since Nancy was black, a man with the same first name as the hated current President of the United States was suspect. Later, Laura realized Nancy picked up on a subtle vibe around Ronald that there was something not quite square about this guy.

*******

In Laura's fourth floor flat near the corner of Polk and Larkin, Lynnette Powell of 1970s San Francisco was also "one of you people" trying to get to square one. She was a desk clerk at the Hotel Dorian and a regular at the Tenderloin Counseling Center, where Laura had met her. Lynnette seemed the vivacious blonde divorcee, with a shock of gray at the widow's peak and a mischievous gleem in the eye, and dressed like she had just come from the women's tees at Pebble Beach. No San Francisco day was too damp or windy for her primary-color pallate of Lycra T-top, short-sleeve jacket and miniskirt combos. She would cover it all with a camel coat on extra windy days such as today. She always tried to interest Laura in an opera on her boom box. Laura tried to listen for a while, but they would eventually drift into discussing their fantasies and dreams, as Laura never could with Alice, even though Alice was similarly afflicted.

Laura would describe a recurring dream in which she floated over the New Mexico sands and sagebrush, riding a beautiful Appaloosa, a mare. In womanly silhouette she rode along side the highway she had driven in on from El Paso to California. On the highway she could just make out her other self and the car. She inhaled the perfume of sagebrush and cactus blossoms as she strode the galloping Appaloosa, lithe and naked under the full moon, her long hair billowing in slow motion in the slip stream. Up ahead, on a mesa and in full Comanche regalia, stood her great-great-grandfather, the Chief. Of course, he wasn't really a chief, but Laura didn't know that in her dreams. He was a chief in full headress, just like the old television test pattern from the fifties. At the same point in the dream every night she would hear her father calling.

"Don't," he would say, "don't run away! Don't run from who you are!"

And then Laura would hear her own voice calling back to her father: "What do you mean? I'm not running away from anything!"

The dream would progress each night, Laura told Lynnette, taking her a little further toward some conclusion only to drop her into her waking bed.

"That's as far as it went last time," Laura told her friend, "I got up in the middle of the night and wrote a poem- -not a very inspired one, I'm afraid. I tried to write down the dream but I came up with something else. I took the poem by Earthquake Press. The guy there didn't like my work. Maybe I'll write about the dream sometime, if I ever figure it out."

"I know what it's about," Lynnette announced with the confidence of someone who had experienced a few too many hours of therapy.

"You do?" Laura was apprehensive.

"It's so obvious: you're undecided."

"About what?"

"About what? The whole thing: who you are, what you are, what you are going to do. Why else would you be so passive and unassertive?"

Laura had heard the "passive" label before from Alice, and she didn't like it. Alice certainly took advantage of whatever passivity was there.

"Lynnette, that's just not true. I couldn't be any more sure of myself. I've even said so in my poetry."

"Sounds like whistling in the dark to me, Laura."

"What do you mean?"

"Sounds like you're trying to convince yourself. Sounds like you're afraid to face the truth. It's classic, psychologically."

"I don't think so. I think you're way off-base." Lynnette's armchair phychoanalysis was beginning to chafe.

"That's just the way it looks to me. I've seen it happen with other transsexuals before."

"Well, it's not happening that way to me."

"Now don't get me wrong," Lynnette intoned in her superior manner, "I think you're adorable and you may be well on your way to being a woman. I wouldn't have approached you that day at the Center if I didn't think you were more than some scurvy transvestite. No. You've got substance, but do you have what it takes to go the distance? Few have."

"Well I do have what it takes!"

"Fine. I'm just trying to give you the benefit of my experience...Want to hear another opera tape? I've got highlights from 'La Boheme'."

Laura, dropping back into friend mode, said, "Some other time...but I enjoyed the arias from 'Madame Butterfly'. I'm not a big opera fan, but it was good...Do you want to go out for a patty melt like we planned? I can't go far. I want to be on time for my first group session at the counseling center tonight."

"We have plenty of time. It's not quite six...I know." With that Lynnette reached into her purse and produced a cassette. "I think," she continued, "my personal experiences would be very instructive to you before you go off to group therapy."

"What's that?"

"It won't be all twenty-eight hours worth, just a few poignant excerpts from my therapy in Reno," she replied, swapping the cassette in the player, "You should find it very enlightening...And then if I could owe you for the patty melt, we'll go to 'Her Majesty's Restaurant' and you can still be on time for your group."

"I suppose...," said Laura in resignation.

Lynnette produced a photograph from her handbag and handed it to Laura.

"You need to see this first," Lynnette told her.

"Who's this?...You don't mean it's you." This was just the sort of thing Laura tried to avoid when she was with "one of you people" but there it was.

"I wanted you to see what I looked like when this tape was made," Lynnette said pressing the "Play" button on the tape machine, "the other voice is Andrea Carson, my therapist."

"Have you thought about the cave lately?" asked the amplified voice that didn't belong to Lynnette.

"Could we...come back to that later?" said a voice that probably did belong to Lynnette once, albeit in a lower register.

Laura, in real time, cut in. "Is that you?"

"Shhhh!" was Lynnette's response.

Back in the recorded past Dr. Carson said, "Then what do you want to discuss?"

"I...uh...saw Marsha today," the deeper, slower-voiced Lynnette told her, "We had a nice talk--polite anyway. She's back in school and living with some student--a male--'platonically' she says."

"How do you feel about that?"

"I...don't know. How should I feel? I miss her. She was a friend..."

"No more, Lawrence? You were married to her for five years."

"Lawrence?" Laura of the disco present asked, "You too?"

"Laura..." shushed Lynnette of the disco present impatiently.

"Lawrence?" called the Dr. Carson of yesteryear to bring the earlier Lynnette from a daze, "what about her living with a man? Do you have any feelings about that?"

"Well, I'm happy for her...I AM really," said Lynnette, not convincingly.

"Oh, I believe you," said Andrea Carson, no more convincingly.

"I feel relieved somehow. I don't think things could have turned out differently. Our differences became too great..."

"Was it your differences or your similarities?" Andrea noted slyly.

"What?"

"I'm talking about Lynnette."

" 'Lynnette?' You're mocking me."

"Not at all. You are not the only one who has grown in the fourteen months we've been meeting."

"But I thought you couldn't accept Lynnette. When I first told you about her and that she was more than just a dream figure, that she was me, you dismissed her out of hand, you--"

"I, of course, was skeptical. It wasn't expected. Even for a psychologist, such a confession is difficult to assimilate. However, I have done my homework on the subject and I've watched you very closely. I've seen the changes you have gone through and they seem to be positive for the most part."

"Then you approve of Lynnette...and the surgery," Lynnette inquired, maybe fishing a little.

"I neither approve nor disapprove," Dr. Carson hedged.

"Then you wash your hands of the matter," whined Lynnette, dropping down several emotional years of age.

"No," Andrea assured her, "I'm concerned, but the responsibility for your life is yours. It has to be yours. My job is to help you find the answer for yourself. If Lynnette can bring you well-being and peace of mind, I'm all for her. I'm all for YOU, whether you are Lynnette or Larry. I just want you to be sure you know what you are doing."

"But you don't disapprove of...the change," Lynnette pouted even through the audio tape.

"I don't know, generally speaking. But if I disapproved, would you change your mind?"

"No...I wouldn't." Lynnette sounded a little more confident.

"Remember how you were fourteen months ago? You were so unsure, so unassertive. You seemed to have no direction in your life. Now look at you. In two weeks you are going to begin a totally new existence."

"You don't believe I can do it, do you?" Lynnette said, fishing again.

Andrea Carson sighed, "Fourteen months ago--four months ago--I thought you were grasping at straws, groping for a way out of a life you couldn't cope with. As you recall, I was concerned at first that Lynnette was an alternate personality which your mind had created out of desperation. But we have worked together, you and I, to bring your fears and your fantasies to the surface. We've reviewed your childhood and adolescence, your marriage, your emotional collapse. I think I know you as well as anyone does."

"Better than anyone," Lynnette admitted.

"And, remember, I have met other transsexuals, their physicians and therapists...and I have faith in your university program. Will you resume therapy in San Francisco?" The session was obviously winding down, Laura thought.

"I realize I'm not out of the woods--not for another two years, at least."

"That's the university's requirement?"

"Yes. Two years of living, working, relating to people as a woman...It's a fair test."

"It's quite a step," Andrea concluded.

"I know."

"I'll be away most of the next two weeks," Dr. Carson said audibly turning pages in her appointment book, "but I should be in the Wednesday before you leave Reno. I'd like to see you to say 'good-bye and good luck...' "

The Lynnette of the disco present sounded suddenly exhausted. "Laura," she asked, "do you mind if we don't go for a patty melt after all? I'm going back to my apartment...to listen to the tapes...alone."

Laura was always puzzled by Lynnette's mood swings but she accepted them. She had a bittersweet feeling about her own past, so many wasted years that should have been different somehow. Laura asked Lynnette if she would be all right and they parted for the day. Lynnette couldn't say when she would be in the mood to get together again. That evening alone in "Her Majesty's Restaurant", after her patty melt, Laura answered Lynnette's psychobabble analysis in poetry, as she never could answer to her face.

"Yes There Are Doubts"

Yes,
There are doubts,
My friend,
But you make too much of them.
I am often uneasy,
But don't seize on that.
You raise your worth
At my helpless expense,
But, surely, my weak gropings forward
Cannot detract
From your grandiose strides.
I don't really expect
Your reflected support,
But please let me know
If I do something right.

CHAPTER FIVE

On Laura's way to her first group counseling session, she had one of those uneasy street moments which would plague her constantly for years, and from time to time, always. As she turned a corner, a well-dressed young black couple crossed her path. The woman of the couple stopped and looked Laura over, making Laura halt in her tracks.

"Uh huh," said the woman disapprovingly, "that IS a 'ho ho ho'."

Laura stood there for a moment, puzzled. The man of the couple took the woman aside and whispered into her ear as though explaining something to her. The man nodded diplomatically to Laura. The woman looked her over again but uttered nothing but a huff of air. So Laura was a bit over madeup. She still had some five o'clock shaddow to hide, some. In a few months, maybe, that would be behind her. Electrolysis was expensive but she was making progress week to week. For now, she was almost relieved to be called a "Ho". There were worse things to be called in the Tenderloin. Sometimes a homeless guy or druggy student type would come up to her on the street and shout something like "Sir! Sir! Do you have a light?" At such times Laura could almost kill. "I'll give you a light," she would think. She fantasized dropping a lighted match on the creep. Maybe the bum would have spilled alcohol on himself and would catch fire. Well, she never could have gone through with it but she thought about it. Years later, in the Twenty-first Century, on those rare occasions when someone made the same sort of mistake, however accidentally, Laura would just say, "Idiot!" under her breath and that would be the end of it for several months or even years at a time. The same epithet served for people who smoke in public places, speed through neighborhoods with mufflers growling, and for people who talk on cellphones while operating heavy machinery around tight corners.

At her first group session at The Tenderloin Counseling Center Laura read one of her introspective poems to the group.

"Sisters"

She never writes,
My sister,
Never calls.
The folks do,
Uptight as they are.

Audrey, the psychiatric social worker, held a smile. Dr. Carlos Divisadero nodded like a therapist as the poem continued and Laura's fellow patients variously yawned and fidgeted.

Fear? Disgust?
Jealousy? Impossible.
So why?--I stood by her once.
Different case, I guess.
Her needs and my prejudice
Came together then.

Not now.
Oh, she helped at first
By her silence.
Disappointment maybe.
Did not meet her
Expectations.
Expectations,
Who is she to expect
Anything?
No labels on her.

Never writes,
She never calls,
My sister.
It's been a year, more.

I want too much?
Acceptance,
Would be nice--Not necessary.
Admiration?--No.
Communication
Is all I ask.

Too much for her
Now.
Later?
Doubt it.
She doesn't forgive
And forget.

Hurt.
Believe it?
She's hurt.
Embarrassed.

I did that, I know,
But it's over.
Can't write?
Why not?
That would admit
My existence.
She thinks me dead
Now.
At least
That's what she said.

Laura's sister of the Third Millenium ano domini had not softened to her. If anything, the years had made it easy to forget an embarrassing sibling. Linda Roberts had an Anglo husband and two rowdy boys, and they all lived in far off Pennsylvania. Laura wasn't certain Linda even wanted to be known as Hispanic these days. She was raising her children to be Americans, not Mexicans, not New Mexicans, and certainly not Comanches.

"That was very powerful, Laura," Audrey of the Second Millenium told her at last, "I think many of us here can relate to those feelings. Kay, you were telling the group last week about your relationship with your family."

Kay Ingleside smiled weakly, "I know how Laura feels. My parents are like her sister. They want nothing to do with me. They haven't answered my letters in two years."

Always the therapist, Dr. Diversidero broke out his small repetoire of therapist questions. "What do you feel at this very moment, Miss Ingleside?" he asked Kay in his courtly South American accent, "You are smiling, but you don't seem happy."

"I guess smiling is my primary defense mechanism, Dr. Divisadero," Kay told him, as if reading from a well-worn script, "I feel that I have to smile to keep from crying, to trivialize my worries--"

"What would happen if you let yourself cry?" he asked as he might have asked often before, "Would that be so terrible?"

"I wouldn't be able to stop," she said.

"And what would be the consequences of such crying?"

"I don't know."

Audrey chimed in, "Kay, are you afraid that we will disapprove if you cry?"

Kay was close to tears. "I don't want to burden...," she began but did not finish, "It's not very pretty when I cry."

"That is very important to you, isn't it?" Audrey asked her, "How you look."

"I didn't mean that, Audrey," Kay wept defensively, "I meant no one else should have to see the ugliness of my petty, neurotic, paranoiac..."

Dr. Divisadero, the father figure, though little older than Kay, inquired somewhat formally, "Are you psychoanalyzing yourself, Miss Ingleside? I am not doing so and I am the only one here so qualified."

Laura really liked Dr. Divisadero even though he did remind her of the therapist her mother had once sent her to, hoping to "cure" her. From that point onward, Laura was suspicious of men in charcoal gray suits and black nylon socks with pasty skin showing in the gap between hosiery and trouser cuff. At least Dr. Divisadero was closer to her coloring, and he was much more open-minded. The previous shrink was absolutely ignorant on the subject of transsexualism. It eventually became clear to Laura back then that it was a waste of her time to educate the pasty man. He was hopeless.

"Is anyone judging you, Kay?" Audrey said, "Besides yourself?"

"My parents would if they were here," Kay said.

"But they are here, aren't they?" Audrey asked her, "You carry them with you, don't you?"

"Everywhere," Kay admitted.

Dr. Divisadero signaled to Audrey unseen by Kay but quite visible to the other group members. "What would you say to your mother and your father," he asked Kay, "if they were in this room in the flesh?"

Audrey, in response to the therapist's signals, pulled an unoccupied chair to the center of the group therapy circle. Everyone but Laura knew this meant roll playing. She would catch on soon.

"I don't know," Kay said "I guess my tendency would be to leave."

"After two years you would go away," summed up Dr. Davisadero, "when you have your first chance to communicate with your parents?"

"I said that my TENDENCY would be to leave," Kay corrected him, "but I would fight it."

"Miss Ingelside," the therapist announced, "if you would stand, please, and take your chair beside the other one."

Kay stood and dragged her chair next to the empty chair in the center. Audrey adjusted the chairs, setting them apart with just enough room to stand between them and turned in slightly toward each other. She then led Kay to sit in one of the chairs.

"Now, Ms. Ingleside, Kay," said Dr. Divisadero fighting his own tendency toward formality, "imagine that your mother is sitting in that other chair. Talk to her." The doctor sat awaiting Kay's psychotheatre.

"Hi, mom," Kay said to the empty chair, "It's good to see you again...I miss you..."

Audrey tried to prompt her a little. "Kay, what do you think your mother would say to you?" she asked.

"I don't know," Kay replied.

"I think you might know, Miss Ingleside," decided the doctor.

"Now sit in the other chair," Audrey told her, adjusting the exercise, "and say what your mother would say to you."

Kay sat in the other chair but no more words were forthcoming. There was a long pause while she tried to conjure up her mother's words.

"Come back home...son," Kay imitated her mother painfully, "Give up that kind of life. We'll just forget about these last few years. All will be forgiven."

"Okay, now you're Kay again," Audrey said then, "Just stand behind the chair."

Kay did so and found the courage to talk back to her absent mother. "Who are you talking to, Mom?" she demanded, "You don't understand who I am--what I am. There is no going back."

Audrey joined the game as Kay's mom behind the other chair. She knew what to say based on what Kay had told her in the past. "You used to be so happy," Audrey as Mom said, "Why can't you be that way again?"

Kay was now into the game. "But I WASN'T happy," she said, "You only thought I was because I always smiled and did what you expected me to do. I know I was your favorite over all my brothers, and it was just because I was so damned agreeable!"

"I never knew how you felt," Audrey/Mom continued, "Your father never knew how you felt. Are we to blame?"

"No...But how could I tell you?," Kay answered, falling into tears again, "You were so busy praising me, patting me on the back for being a perfect "son"...And if I HAD told you, what would you have done? Disowned me? Tried to have me committed?...That's right, you DID try to have me committed."

Laura thought of a poem she had written that applied to Kay's situation. The poem had been lost somewhere but Laura remembered this much:

"The young man who never was
Was pied and cookied and caked..."

Realizing things had gone as far as possible, and that there were others to hear from in the group, Audrey directed Kay to take her chair back into the circle while she removed the other chair from the center. Jay Church, who seemed a young adolescent Australian boy, his bouncy brown hair in the ubiquitous Beatles cut, but he was probably older than he looked, Laura thought, went to Kay's aid.

"It's alright, Kay," he said, "Have a good cry. Your folks, the bastards, are the bleedin' crazy ones."

"Mr. Church...," Dr. Divisadero cautioned.

"That's okay, Dr. Divisadero," Kay told him, "Jay's right. My folks ARE bastards. I don't know why I waste tears on them. Maybe I figure I have to because they're my parents."

Kathleen, another patient, had sat motionless throughout the role playing, her head hung to her chest, her long blonde hair covering her face. Audrey tried to bring her into the conversation.

"Kathleen, I noticed you listening intently to Kay," Audrey coaxed, "I don't believe you've mentioned your family. Are they at all supportive of you emotionally?"

"Not really," Kathleen muttered.

"Do you feel like talking about them?" Audrey asked trying to bring her out more.

"No," she mumbled.

"Is there anything you would like to say about what is going on in your life?" Audrey persevered.

"No," Kathleen whispered.

"You don't feel like talking at all?" Audrey wanted to know.

"No," Kathleen mouthed.

Dr. Divisadero, conceding a lost cause, turned by contrast to the volatile Jay Church. "Mr. Church?" he said.

"Yeah?" asked Jay, annoyed with what he knew was to come.

"Would you tell us was it was like living with your foster parents?" Dr. Divisadero prompted him.

"Bloody Hell," Jay barked.

"Could you tell us more about those times?" Dr. Divisadero asked him proddingly.

"No, Doctor D, I couldn't," Jay declared, "There ain't no need to talk about that. Everybody in this bleedin' group knows too much just 'cause I'm here. Anyway, I ran away when I was a little kid. I couldn't remember if I wanted, but I'll tell you all you want to know about my real dad even if I never met him 'til I was twelve and only saw him six times before he died...But he loved ME. He was my Dad."

"I'm sure your foster parents loved you very much too, Jay, and still do," Audrey offered.

"They didn't and they don't!" he told her, "Maybe they loved somebody, but it wasn't me. If they loved me, they'd love me bein' an Aussie and a rock singer. My dad loved me. He knew I was an Aussie 'cause he was an Aussie. He died before I became a rock singer. He was a seaman, so he was away most of my life, but he bloody well loved me!"

Audrey, sensing another losing cause, turned finally to Laura. "So, Laura," she said brightly, "have you had any of your poems published?"

"Not yet," Laura said, "As a matter of fact, I was turned down by another press recently."

"How do you feel about that, Miss Sabinal?" Dr. D. asked, using a variation on his one question.

"Well," said Laura, "I don't write for mass consumption, anyway. The poems...and the short stories and novels I keep starting...are mostly just for myself. Writing helps me make sense of the world...and, I guess, to make sense of myself." She produced a folded scrap of paper from her pocketbook and unfolded it. "In college," she continued, "I found one friend I felt I could trust...and I told her about myself gradually through my poems. One day I decided to tell her everything...hoping I wouldn't lose her friendship in the process...This is the poem that spelled it all out. May I read it?"

"By all means," said Dr. Divisadero.

"Yes, of course," Audrey agreed.

"Go on," said Jay apprehensively.

"I think I should add that there are portions of this poem which are embarrassing to me now," Laura stalled, "but they reflected my outlook at the time. It is, perhaps, my most sophisticated rhyme--"

"Let's just hear it, then, Laura," Jay demanded.

"Jay, give her a chance," Audrey said to him.

"Okay," said Laura, taking a breath, "It's entitled 'Imagine, If You Will'."

She remembered reciting it to Rachel back in her last year at UTEP. Rachel lived in the other duplex apartment in the same house. Rachel was cool. Somehow Laura knew she would understand. How could Rachel not know something was going on? Laura was in flux. She had given up all pretence of being a guy. She just let go of the artifice she had built up all her life. She didn't try to act any particular way but anyone could tell she was changing. Her sister Linda certainly noticed Laura's transition, and she made no bones about not liking the changes in the least, finally to the point of banning her "brother" from all of her own college haunts.

Perhaps Laura had had unreasonable expectations of what physical changes were possible. The naivete certainly showed in the poem. Now in the mid-70s encounter group Laura read the poem aloud, not so naive, but just as oblivious to the ultimate impossibilities.

"Imagine, if you will,
The anxiety and thrill
Of having to learn from scratch
All the little things--
How to sit and how to stand,
How to walk and talk and move your hand
How to sip from a glass, how to strike a match--
And all the time knowing that even when
You've learned all these things and then
You've altered your very countenance--
You've grown your bust and broadened your hips,
You've lost your beard and painted your lips--
And think that you have climbed the fence
To a more normal, but still magical world
In which, as you were boy, you are girl,
Realizing no advantage, asking for none,
But knowing, nonetheless, that to be so
You must hurt those you love and know,
Yet never really regretting when it's done.
For ones own true self cannot be denied
Because of loyalty and family pride,
Or fear of rejection, unrelenting abuse,
Or of good people who can't comprehend
The exposed "perversity" of a friend,
Or the little inner voice saying,"What's the use?"
As the truth will out or be buried in
To choke and stagnate the will to win,
To make some small space in a wasted life
Devoid of substance, a cardboard lie,
To be lost in daydreams until you die
A dull bachelor or husband who would be wife!'"

You could have heard crickets chirping in the following silence but Kay Ingleside finally broke the ice. "Wow," she said, "That really says everything, doesn't it? Laura, you should read your stuff in coffee houses. It's that good."

"I'd be afraid to get up in front of strangers..." Laura trailed off realizing she had just recited in front of strangers. But these were "you people". That was different.

"Laura," asked Audrey, "how did your friend react when she read this poem?"

"We became closer friends, I think," she said. The Laura of that time and the Laura of the Twenty-first Century wondered whatever happened to Rachel.

"Wonderful...Jay?" Audrey continued, trying to bring Jay back into the conversation.

"Yeah?" he said, bugged.

"Were you about to say something?" Audrey coaxed him.

"No." Jay shut down.

"I thought you would have a comment," Audrey persisted.

"The poem is good, Laura," he admitted, "I'm glad your friend liked it." Jay turned to Audrey, "How's that?"

Dr. Divisadero joined in, "You seem anxious, Mr. Church. What feelings do the poem bring out in you?"

"I said the bleedin' poem was good, didn't I?" said Jay, coming to the boiling point, "Ain't that enough? It don't have a thing to do with me anyway, so how the hell should I know how to bloody feel about it?"

"I know that your problems are quite different from those of Miss Sabinal and the others," the therapist pressed on, "but her poem must affect you in some way that you can talk about. You must--"

Jay lay his cards on the table, "Always the same goddamn question." He quoted the good doctor mockingly " 'How do you feel, Jay?', 'How do you feel about that?', 'How does that make you bloody feel?' Look, this is female stuff you've been talkin' about. That's okay. I'm the only male in this group except yourself, Dr. D. Alright. I understand that, but crikey, most blokes like me don't get into groups like this. I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to and the university says I have to so I can stay on their program and get hormones so I won't look like a bloody little kid all my life."

"And you HAVE been taking hormones, have you not?" Dr. D responded, "You seem to have...matured quite a bit. You really are very masculine--"

"Masculine! Of course I'm bleedin' masculine! I was always masculine. God, I don't want to go through this all the time. I should be like Kathleen there. I should just shut up and go into a bloody coma or something."

"Jay!" Audrey cautioned him.

"Jay," Kay, Jay's best friend in the group and his mediator, negotiated, "I think Dr. Divisadero just meant to say that you are looking much older, much more your age."

"Yeah?" Jay answered, calmer and a bit more focused, "Laura, you're new here. How old do you think I am? "

Laura responded cautiously. "I...uh...I'm not really very good at guessing people's ages or weights or..."

"Try," said Jay.

"Oh...I suppose you're seventeen or eighteen...You'd have to be at least eighteen, wouldn't you?" she guessed cautiously.

It was a "gotcha" moment for Jay. "See!" he noted in some sort of triumph, " 'Seventeen or eighteen.' I'll soon be twenty-two fuckin' years old and I still look like a bleedin' little kid."

"Jay, I'm sorry," Laura said, "I told you I wasn't good at that sort of thing."

"It ain't your fault. I bet you were even guessing high. I probably look sixteen to you."

"No. I wouldn't say sixteen..."

"Jay, remember when you met Alex Comstock?" Kay asked him, trying to dig Laura out of her hole by changing the subject a bit, "Didn't he say he had the same trouble at first? Now look at him."

"Yeah, look at him. He lost his re-election to the state assembly 'cause his bloody opponent found out he was T.S." Jay had taken the subject off on a different tangent.

"That's not what we're talking about here, Jay," Kay said.

"I know what we're bloody talkin' about, Kay, I'm just sick of all this transsexual shit, that's all! I'm sick of comin' here every week to talk about it over and over again. It don't do me no good. I want to get on and live my life. I want to be a rock singer and live like every- bleedin'-body else."

Perhaps the almost catetonic Kathleen was ready to participate, Dr. D hoped. "Miss...uh...Kathleen. How do you feel about what Jay just said? Hello..."

"I think she's asleep," Audrey said at last.

CHAPTER SIX

Laura felt detached from the group. That was her stance. Certainly, each of them had gone through the same basic tribulations she had but she thought herself above it all somehow, like a social scientist observing another culture. But then she felt detached from herself as well. Perhaps that was another part of her survival mechanism. She was detached and naive and oblivious. Always a loner out of necessity she longed to make a human connection with someone. In the mid-1980s and for almost two decades afterward in New Orleans she thought she had made that connection until her relationship with Ronald turned to dust--or mud.

Maybe Hurricane Katrina had been a lucky break for her. Oh it was tragic for New Orleans, all those poor people abandoned by their own government at the time of their greatest need. Some of them did what Laura did: pulled up stakes and left. She could have stayed with Ronald high and dry in his hovel outside the flood zone but it had been over between them months before. One more Halloween and she would have strangled him.

He had actually asked her once if he was her "beard". How selective his memory was. He wanted to know if she was using him to be her fake boyfriend when he was the one who had been using her for almost twenty years. It was true he had been patient with her. They had had sex just a few times early on in their relationship. She had cooled to him, had frozen him out, really, for years. And after all of this neglect he still went out with her. But how could you feel sexy for a man who licked his lips every time before kissing you or who used his index finger to change channels on the TV remote control, as opposed to using his thumb like a person? Of course, Laura's irritation with Ronald was more profound than that but she did not even want to form the words in her mind about him. If he was that, what did that make her? It was definitely not something she could talk to her jogging buddy Nancy about.

Laura had always known on some level what Ronald wanted from her. By reading between the lines she knew what had caused his divorce from his wife before her. He couldn't have a normal relationship with a woman, and what Laura wanted was a normal relationship. Ronald had treated her like a conman's mark, she thought. It was a subtle con, to be sure, and she let it go on for a very long time. He never had the courage to be direct with her. Perhaps he knew she would reject him altogether if he approached her about his fetish. Toward the end Laura let him know she thought he was perverted and she wished he would get help.

Ironically, Laura had been told the same thing by her sister, Linda, and by their mother. "Why don't you just give this thing up and get professional help?" they would say. Couldn't they see who she was? The thing with Ronald was totally different, though Laura's detractors would have been hard pressed to see the distinction. Ronald would have been seen as a closeted version of what she was. Ronald even thought so. Maybe that is what irked her more than anything, that he thought they were the same. How dare he think that he is anything like her! There are lines of demarcation whatever the "common wisdom" might say.

So the threat of the approaching Huricane Katrina had been her excuse to pack her belongings on a west-bound Greyhound bus and leave the Crescent City for the Bayou City, but she soon gravitated away from Houston back to Galveston again, after Hurricane Rita yet, and settled there. Maybe she would open her heart again but she knew the odds were against finding someone who was what Ronald should have been. And maybe she would find another friend like Nancy, who was forced by the flood to gather up her kids and move in with her mother in Baton Rouge.

In the San Francisco of the bellbottom era it was past ten at night when Laura returned to her apartment house from her first group meeting. Terry No Last Name, laden with suitcases and bags, and a teenage girl, similarly burdened, greeted her on the sidewalk outside. "This here's my daughter Jamey," she told Laura.

"Nice to meet you, Jamey." Laura took some of the burdens from Jamey.

"Little girl, I'm going to call your dad when we get upstairs and let him know you're with me," Terry said in a motherly tone Laura hadn't anticipated.

"Let him worry," said Jamey, "He's such an asshole."

Terry agreed. "Everybody knows that, darlin', but he is your dad. Come on."

Terry pressed the buzzer, which prompted the intercom voice of Arvis. "Yeah?" she asked.

"It's us, sweetheart." answered Terry the Spouse.

"Us bein'..."

"Us bein' me, love of your life, Laura--you know, the good one--and some little girl I found on the street."

"You there, Jamey?"

"I'm here, Arvis."

"Jamey, you worried your mom almost to death."

"Would you push the goddamn buzzer and let us in? We got our hands full." Terry demanded. "We'll talk inside. It's cold and wet out here." It was always cold and wet in San Francisco the iPod Age Laura recalled.

"Keep your pants on." said the intercom voice of Arvis.

The buzzer sounded and Laura, Terry and Jamey climbed the four steps and passed through the now-open door. Terry's daughter Jamey seemed like a good kid. She was caught in a difficult situation, though, and seemed to be acting out her stress and lashing out at her parents' divorce. It could have happened that way between two straight parents just as easily, and thirty years on in the new millenium Laura realized, when she thought back on the matter, it might not have been such a big deal now. In the 70s homosexuality was just beginning to register on the radar of public consciousness. A couple such as Terry and Arvis could only exist, really, in a sexual minorities ghetto such as San Francisco's Tenderloin, Houston's Montrose or New York's Greenwhich village. It was not a subject that was spoken about yet in polite society. Jamey's father had won custody because he was straight, and therefore considered the stable and reliable parent. Laura couldn't see Jamey living in that small flat with Terry and Arvis, even if they were not considered pariahs by the mainstream world, but in the Twenty-first Century they all might have been able to live together in a large house in the suburbs with very little harrassment. In the Two Thousand Naughts Laura's "you people" were still the outcasts gays had been back in the day.

Laura's night was not yet over. Alice Sutter greeted her on the fourth floor landing. "Laura, you're just in time," she said, a little too cheerfully.

"Alice, it's late and I'm tired. I just want to go to my own apartment, watch some television and go to bed. Alright? "

"Listen, I'd like you to come down and meet--"

"I don't feel like meeting anyone tonight."

"I want you to meet Tiffany O'Farrell."

"We've met at the Tenderloin Counseling Center."

"That's funny, she says she never met you. Probably just can't place your name."

"I don't think Tiffany can place anyone who is not in transsexual 'society'. I never 'told all' to a newspaper or a sleazy magazine or showed my face on coast-to-coast television." Maybe Laura was a little strident but it was late, for Christ's sake.

"Tiffany isn't like that at all," Alice told her, "She's so down to earth, so--"

"Alice, you were the one who first told me about Tiffany. Remember? You said she was a professional transsexual."

"Shhhh! I was wrong to say that. I didn't really know her then. Please come down just to say hello. Nicole is there, too, and Sandy Eddy...and Alice Geary. Well, what do you say?"

Well, Nicole had become a friend and Laura did like Alice Geary. And Sandy...Laura couldn't miss seeing her. "Okay," she said, "but I can't stay long."

Laura followed Alice down the two flights of stairs to her apartment. Alice burst into the room dragging Laura with her. "Hey everybody, look who decided to drop by!"

"Hi girl," said Nicole.

They all greeted Laura as if they had been waiting for her, which they had been. She smelled an ambush. Alice Sutter took her place sitting at the head of her bed, seating Laura beside her, causing Sandy and Nicole to move down toward the end. Nicole was almost forced onto the floor. Alice Geary sat in the room's only chair, a wooden number missing the rest of its dining set. Tiffany was standing, ready to depart, it seemed. Alice Sutter did the obligatories. "Laura, this is Tiffany O'Farrell. Tiffany, Laura."

"I believe we've met," Laura said.

"We have?" Tiffany was sort of a celebrity. How could she remember such a commoner?

"At the counseling center," Laura tried to remind her.

"Oh yes," Tiffany said without a lick of sincerity, "So nice to see you again."

"And of course, you know Alice, Sandy and Nicole." hostess Alice S. continued.

"Yes. Of course." Laura nodded, frowning impatiently at her former roommate.

"Laura, I suppose you have been reading about the murders in the paper?" Tiffany got down to business.

"Murders?" Laura was taken off her guard.

"The Tenderloin murders," Tiffany said, "the murders in this very neighborhood."

Laura had read something about it but she didn't realize it was so local. "I've just skimmed the headlines," she replied, "All I know is that the police think both were done by the same killer with some kind of a razor blade...and, of course, that the victims were transvestites."

"Well, that's the media for you," Alice Sutter declared, "They don't know the difference. Most of us here were acquainted with both girls. They were most definitely TRANSSEXUAL."

"I didn't realize."

"Be very careful where you go at night, Laura," Sandy Eddy told her with lightyears' more sincerety than Tiffany could ever muster.

"And be careful who you bring home with you." Alice S. affected the attitude of a concerned parent.

"I'm always careful. I don't go out much anyway. And you know very well I'm not in the habit of bringing strangers home with me. I never go anywhere after dark."

"How about tonight?" asked Alice Geary, the only one present who was not "one of you people."

"I rode with people in my therapy group...," said Laura, "on the streetcar."

"But those two blocks from the streetcar could have been your last, Alice S. pressed her, "This slasher has some kind of thing against transsexuals. So watch it."

Nicole tried to dispell the gloom a little. "Girl, it could be just a coincidence both victims were T.S."

Alice S. was dismissive. "Coincidence or not, it always pays to be cautious."

"You're right. I'll take care. Alice, is this what you wanted to talk to me about? Thank you for your concern. I appreciate it. Now I have to go. I--"

"Please stay a while longer," Alice Sutter pleaded, "I promise the conversation will take a happier turn."

Sandy tried to set a lighter tone. "Laura, did I tell you that David and I have moved to Burlingame? We have a house now."

"That's wonderful!" Laura told her. Sandy was her ideal of T.S. success.

"David is assistant manager at the new supermarket in Daly City and he comes home every night and I cook supper...It's so domestic, it's sickening. I love it." Sandy's enthusiasm was contagious.

"That's great. I'm happy for the two of you. God Sandy, you have so much going for you. You deserve it all. I know how you've struggled to get where you are...Are you still working?" Laura completely forgot her apprehension. Sandy was virtually the template of what she aspired to be.

"Yes. We have to make ends meet, you know. It's not too bad. I managed to get transferred to the Burlingame branch of Earthquake Savings and Loan. You know what else? I'm scheduled for the operation in a couple of weeks."

Sandy could have been any young married woman. She was pert, strawberry blonde, and of a peaches and cream complexion as wholesome as that of the girl on a cerial box with which Laura was well acquainted. She is so NORMAL, Laura thought, but of course, she herself, would not have had sex until after the surgery. Laura was two times a virgin, and she preferred not to think of how Sandy and David handled the sex thing.

"Excuse me, Sandy," Alice Geary spoke up, "Did you say you were going to have THE operation? By that do you mean to say you're transsexual?"

"Yes," said Sandy blushing, "Didn't you know that?"

"No. How would I know that? You're so pretty."

"So what are the rest of us," Laura's Alice chimed in, "chopped liver?"

"You, my friend, told me about your past the very first time we met. I knew you were transsexual practically before I had a chance to think otherwise. Anyway, you and I are average. Sandy here qualifies as a borderline great beauty."

"Thanks," said Sandy.

"Of course Sandy is beautiful. We're all very proud of her." Alice Sutter meant what she said but there was a hint of jealousy in it.

"Ya can't tell the players without a score card, huh Alice?" Nicole said in one of her few sentences without a "girl" in it.

Actually, Nicole was no slouch in the beauty department herself. Her silken skin was flawless. She was constantly primping in front of her vanity mirror every time Laura visited her. She reminded Laura of her cousin Anna: always at the vanity, always teasing the hair. The difference was that Anna was practically snatching herself bald in places, and she was a genetic female. Nicole was not but she had, nevertheless, retained a thick head of jet black hair. It's a good thing Anna got married right out of college. A few more years and she wouldn't have had much hair left.

Alice Sutter's wig-covered hair was embarrassingly sparse in a time in which women were all supposed to have a nice thick mop of it. In the Twenty-first Century women who were bald from alopecia or chemotherapy or genetic female-pattern baldness sometimes just wore a headband or a colorful scarf wrapped around the forehead, and just acknowledged that they were showing skin on top. Even in the Seventies black women could have close cropped hair and carry off the look with stunning earrings. Laura once heard Alice Geary try to bond with her transsexual counterpart by saying, "You know, Alice, I'm thinking of having my hair thinned out on top. It gets so hot in the summertime." That was a bit much for Laura.

Even though it was the mid-seventies already Nicole had a teased up beehive worthy of a Mo-Town backup singer from the previous decade. She once told Laura over some tepid instant coffee that she had been a "hair fairy" in her adolescence. It was one of those gay culture terms that Laura mentally discarded along with "chicken hawk" and "fag hag". Alice Geary had referred to herself with that latter appellation once. Laura guessed that would have made Alice Sutter the "fag". This whole gay context was uncomfortable for Laura. Maybe she was compartmentalizing things a little too much but gay was gay and transsexual was transsexual, and never the twain should meet. "Not that there is anything wrong with that," as Jerry Seinfeld and friends would oneday say about being gay.

Why Nicole of all people would cling to the homosexual world was a mystery to Laura. Aside from Laura, herself, and the very begrudging acquaintence of Alice Sutter, Nicole seemed to gravitate toward gay men as friends. Working for Dr. Jones she would have had the surgery far behind her. And she lived with a very straight sort of live-in, bed-in boyfriend named Nick. So he was kind of sleezy and probably a drug dealer. But they were so obviously heterosexual, like John and Yoko, the perfect couple holding court in bed all day sometimes, the covers pulled over Nicole's perky, if installed, breasts and Nick's scrawny, but tight, pectorals.

"Then I'm the only...uh...non-transsexual here, " Alice Geary observed amazed.

"That's okay, Alice," said her best friend Alice, "We love you anyway...Oh, I remember what we were discussing before Laura came in. Laura, Nicole was telling us how good Dr. Jones' surgery is getting these days."

Nicole felt the nudge and responded by rote. "Yeah, girl. When Dr. Jones finishes on somebody and the swelling goes down, it looks so real--the labia and all--even a doctor couldn't tell the difference...And girl, the clitorises he makes don't even slough off no more."

"Tell Laura about your friend from Kansas, Nicole," Alice S. prompted her hurriedly.

"Oh yeah. I know this girl, Mary Ann. She was Dr. Jones' receptionist before I got the job. Anyway, she had her operation with Dr. Jones and she moved back home to Kansas. She went to a gynecologist there and didn't tell him she was T.S. or nothin'. Girl, he gave her a check-up and asked her who did such a neat hysterectomy on her. Can ya beat that?" Nicole tossed Alice Sutter a look as if to say "How's that?" Laura was still dubious.

"Laura, have you had your surgery yet?" asked Tiffany, ready to set the hook.

"Me? No. I'm saving my money, though. I'll have it by the time my trial period is over next year."

"You're in the university's program?" Tiffany wanted to know.

"I am."

Tiffany became the prosecuting attorney she resembled in her suit dress with the obligatory yet redundant shoulder pads and her not-unJoan Crawford-like over-lacquered auburn hair. "How do you know the cost won't be prohibitive in a year's time?" she asked "I've read that the university has raised the price almost a thousand dollars a year for the past three years."

Laura held firm. "I know, but I'll have the money."

"Laura," Alice Sutter nudged her, "you could have the operation much sooner."

"With Dr. Jones? No thanks."

"Dr. Jones is a fine surgeon." Alice Sutter declared.

"That's not what you used to say when I was staying with you...I didn't want to say anything against Sandy's choice of Dr. Jones...but Alice, you told me he was a quack...You were in the university's program yourself. It seems to me that your time to qualify was almost over. What happened?"

"I uh simply didn't have the money," Alice S. said evasively, "I was lost...until I started talking with Tiffany."

"And you, Nicole. Just last week you were about to quit Dr. Jones. Now you're defending him."

Tiffany continued to press. "Laura, I suppose you already know what we are going to propose to you, but here it is for what it's worth: Dr. Jones wants a "package" of five or six transsexuals who sincerely want the operation--who are serious about being women."

"I'm serious. I just--"

"Four persons," continued the rollercoaster that was Tiffany, "including Alice and Sandy, have been screened-- and very carefully, I might add. Unfortunately, one of the girls was a victim of the slasher--which is a tragedy. Nevertheless, the fact remains that there are two slots left. Oh yes, the first surgery date is only two weeks away. The cost will be $2,000 per operation with a special discount for Alice because of her efforts to organize the package. Laura, don't tell me you don't have the money. If you can afford the university's price next year, you can afford a paltry $2,000 now."

"Laura, just think it over for a few days," Alice S. pleaded.

"I'm not going to change my mind."

"Please don't make a final decision until you've spoken with Dr. Jones," Alice Sutter said taking pen and paper from her night stand and writing, "Here's his address and telephone number."

Laura accepted the scrap of paper but told her "Alice, do you know what the word 'no' means?"

"What will it hurt just to speak with the man?"

"There's nothing he can say to change my mind." The conversation was now just between the two them with the others patiently waiting, Tiffany less so than the others.

"Laura," said Alice Sutter, "I've told Dr. Jones all about you, how natural you are, how feminine, how--"

"Alice," said Laura, "give it up. You'll find dozens of others to fill your 'package'."

"I really think if you go to him, look around his clinic, ask all the questions you want, all your fears will disappear. You'll see how responsible, how dedicated--"

"Alice," Tiffany broke in at last, "we're wasting our time on Laura. She won't even meet us half way. If she won't give Dr. Jones a chance, if she prefers to believe all those terrible rumors about the man without his having the opportunity to vindicate himself, if she won't even do him the courtesy to meet him face to face after all the glowing things you told him about her...and his agreeing to make time in his busy schedule, if--"

"Okay. Okay. No more 'ifs' please," said Laura, "Maybe I'll talk to him next week, if that will make you happy, but I'm still in the university program."

"That's all we ask: just go see him...," said Alice Sutter, "And Laura...?"

"What?"

Alice S. couldn't help herself. "Have you ever thought about getting that little hump removed from your nose?" she asked, "I'm sure Dr. Jones would take care of it for just a slight extra charge."

CHAPTER SEVEN

Laura finally got to unwind in front of her twenty-one inch color television. Her car, which had brought her to San Francisco, had been little more than a means of transporting the TV, and Laura. The car was sold soon after the hassle of parking in the City began to consume Laura's waking life. How she got the boob tube up four flights of steps in the first place was one of those things which had long faded from memory in the lighter flatscreen days of the Twenty-first Century. She must have walked the bulky thing up step by step, or at least landing by landing in the stairwell, and then of course, Laura must have got the thing down and out of there when she eventually left the Tenderloin. The highlights of her life were measured by her memories of the tube. She had had no life of her own so she had lived vicariously through "I Love Lucy" and "The Dinah Shore Show" and the short-lived "Mona McCluskey". In the mid-seventies, she identified with Mary Tyler Moore, and Laura had spunk in a world that hated spunk. After that first encounter group meeting and the full court press from Tiffany and company Laura was ready to plop into bed and vege out before the idiot box. As she was getting dressed for bed and brushing her teeth, she heard music and the voice of an announcer eminating from the glowing television.

" 'Christ Church, New Zealand' by Jeremy Church and 'Putrid' by 'The Phlegm' on Earthquake Records and Tapes," said the commercial.

Laura, in blue gingham cotton nightgown and white tennis socks, climbed into bed listening to the brassy big band jazz coming from the TV. The latter day swing music then faded out when Johnny spoke to the audience.

"Thanks, guys. What a band...," he said, turning to his guest, a well known action movie star, "As we were saying before we broke away, you were not the first actor of some prominence to decline the Oscar for political or personal reasons, but there was a little brouhaha, was there not?"

"That's right, John," the star answered him, "I felt under the circumstances that the award was a dubious honor."

"This may be apocryphal," Johnny said, recounting a tale Laura had heard him tell often before, "but I think Abraham Lincoln told the story about the man who was tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. When someone asked him how he felt he said, 'If not for the honor of the thing, I'd just as soon walk.' "

There was a small wave of laughter from the audience, more out of recognition of the oft told tale than reaction to any real humor in it.

"That's about the size of it, John."

"As we've said here many times, there really should be five awards. The nominations themselves should be the awards..."

Laura had heard Johnny's views on the nominations three times that same week. She fell into a sleep and a dream. Her ancestor, the chief, watched from horseback on a distant ridge as her father approached, and seemed to reproach her.

"Don't run from your past," called her dream father, "Don't run from who you are! Don't do it!"

Laura cried out to him. She wasn't sure if she did so only within the dream or if the whole apartment house could hear her. "That's not what I'm doing, Poppo! I'm running toward something!"

"This may be apocryphal," said Late Night Johnny in the dream.

"Can you spell that, John?" asked the dream guest.

"No I can't," answered Johnny to another round of audience laughter, which like much of what happened in her dreams, made no sense to Laura, "I mean it may or may not be true."

"What do you mean?" Laura asked him, apparently on the talk show's couch next to Johnny's guest.

"He means dreams don't always mean what they seem to mean," the guest told her, "Pay attention."

"As Dr. Jung will tell us in a moment," Johnny announced, "Stay tuned. We'll be back with Dr. Carl Jung after these messages."

The swing music, with seventies wahka wahka funk guitar thrown in, faded along with the images of Laura's father and great-great grandfather, as well as Johnny and his guest.

Before work one morning a few days later Laura spooned some instant coffee into two mugs and ran them under the hot water tap in Nicole Mason's bathroom. It was the mid-1970s and coffee and tea were instant. What could be easier? You added water to a spoonfull of brown granuals and you had a drink, in theory. Luckily, some improvements fell by the wayside over time. The coffee was bad and the iced tea made this way was down right caustic, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Nicole was at her vanity this morning teasing her hair into a dark tower of perfection which she poked with the rat tail end of a comb.

"Girl, you gotta come with Nick and me to 'The Make' sometime," she told Laura, accepting a mug from her.

"Isn't that a gay bar?," Laura asked her.

Nicole, her eyes locked on the mirror, sipped her coffee. "Not exclusively," she said, "It's mostly a T.S. hangout these days. All the girls go there."

"I don't know, Nicole."

Nicole precisely drew in her eyeliner. "You know, girl, ya need to get out and live a little. Dance with some nice guy. Date, ya know?"

"I'm definitely not ready for that yet." Laura was like the virginal nice girl of earlier times. She was saving herself.

"Suit yourself, girl, but you're missin' out on a lot," Nicole said, now applying blush to her cheeks, "Ya know, ya don't have ta go home with nobody, just dance a little. What's the harm?"

"I wouldn't feel right...not the way I am now."

Nicole turned toward Laura. "What's the matter with the way you are now? Oh that. So you're just gonna wait until after the operation to live your life? Girl, don't ya think you should find out a little bit about life right now?"

"Did you date when you were...pre-operative?"

Nicole hesitated for a pregnant moment, then said, "Oh sure. All the time. It don't mean nothin' ta just dance with somebody, go out for dinner...like that. Relatin' to guys is a big part of life, don't ya think?"

"I guess."

Nicole examined her beehive once more. "Then come with me and Nick. Get your feet wet."

"Let me think about it."

"Suit yourself, girl...I know why you're so shy about things. Ya feel like everybody's tryin' to push you into somethin'. Am I right, Laura? I'm sorry about the other night. Alice and Tiffany gave ya the hard sell...and I guess I did too. But I was just tryin' ta help. And I guess I figured if Dr. Jones got his 'package' he'd have enough money to pay me the back salary he owes me. There's just so much ya can take out in services, girl. I mean, I only got two boobs and my face don't need nothin' done."

"I understand why Alice is pushing me, but what does Tiffany get out of it?"

"You know Tiffany, girl. She gets ta go on those television shows and be famous...and I think she gets a cut of Dr. Jones' business. Wish I did. Anyway, like next week Tiffany and Dr. Jones' are gonna be on that show after Johnny Carson--Tom whats-his-name--and talk about the T.S. experience or somethin'. So Dr. Jones gets national publicity, maybe thousands of customers, and Tiffany gets ta be some kind of T.S. star--and gets her cut from Dr. Jones."

"And the T.V. program gets a freak show."

"Maybe it won't be that bad, girl."

"Only the Tiffanys of the world would go on coast to coast television and advertise what they are. Most T.S.'s would be horrified to have their pasts splattered all over the airwaves. If people think we're all like Tiffany, they'll never accept us."

The Laura of the 1970s thought it was just a matter of time before the world would come around to her point of view. The Laura of the 2000s knew better. There had been a revolution in dress and hair and attitudes. There had been a women's movement. There had been a gay rights movement. Transsexuals were bound to be accepted as part of the larger society and soon. That was progress. As things turned out, though, that whole progress thing was a crock. The seeds of the conservative backlash were even then, in the 70s, sprouting, even in the City by the Bay. Even with all the liberalism and craziness of the times, and probably because of it, the growing religious right organizations were starting to make themselves heard. Within five years they would even elect themselves a President of the United States.

"Maybe you worry too much, girl," Nocole said, "Relax a little. Come with Nick and me at 'The Make' like next Saturday, right?"

"Maybe."

CHAPTER EIGHT

The next afternoon Laura sipped her brewed iced tea while waiting to meet Lynnette Powell at "Her Majesty's Restaurant" for a patty melt. "Her Majesty's" was an anomaly, a family style restaurant smack dab in the middle of San Francisco's notorious Tenderloin District. The plush red Naugahide booths appeared more appropriate to Sunday lunch with the kids on the way home from church than to rendezvous for pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and the other questionable types who hung out there.

At least "Her Majesty's" still believed in the old brewing and steeping. Laura understood their coffee was decent also, although, being from New Mexico she was a cold drink person, herself. She watched people come and go. She could not help speculating on who was what. While she would certainly have been appalled if someone else had "read her beads", as Nicole called it, she couldn't keep her own mind from wondering.

She looked at feet and hands. It was a habit she had developed over the years: comparing herself to the girls and women around her, telling herself she was not so different. So what if her hands were a little large, not all women had tiny hands. And there was a wide range of shoe sizes too. She had always been able to find her size, at least in certain stores. Thick waists? Many women had thick waists, and broad shoulders, and thinnish hair at the temples.

The literature about the differences between men and women always stated that the classical body measurements were this, this and this. But the real world was not really like that, was it? The common wisdom held that a woman's hips should be as wide or wider than her shoulders but many women were as top heavy in that way as others were top heavy in the usual sense. Women were never supposed to have adam's apples but if one looked around, as Laura did, one would find that was just not so. There were lots of women with little pointed adam's apples, even some glamorous movie stars, Laura noted. Of course, in the neck a propuberence the size of an actual apple was a definite male characteristic, or cause for medical attention. And men didn't always have visible adam's apples either. There were short and tall women as there were short and tall men. There were genetic groups of humans in which women often had facial hair, and there were others in which even men were beardless. The individual, Laura learned, was a mozaic of traits. Concerning those traits which we consider secondary sexual characteristics, if you had a preponderence of the "male" sort, you were probably male, and if you had a preponderence of the "female" sort, you were probably female. It worked that way for most people.

Alice Sutter contended that, whether a voice was high or low in pitch, a male voice always had a different "timbre" from a female voice, but she pronounced the word "tambor" for some reason. Laura just could not accept this notion. There were many women with fairly low voices, and the way you could tell they were not men, on the telephone say, was a matter of pitch and inflection, patterns that were learned throughout life. It was not that there was a profound and unassailable physical difference. Strangely enough, one "absolute difference" in male and female anatomy, aside from the obvious ones, dogged Laura well into her fifties. This was another one of Alice's observations. In women, the index finger was longer than the third finger. In men, the third finger was the longer. But again, that proved to be not always the case, unless there were a lot more transsexuals in the world than Laura realized. And who even knew about that finger thing, anyway?

Lynnette Powell blew into "Her Majesty's Restaurant" from the windy sidewalk and bounced down where Laura was sitting in their usual spot in one corner. Lynnette was on the manic swing of the pendulum this afternoon. Pat Grant, their favorite waitress, breezed by their booth. Pat spoke to Lynnette mostly. Laura just happened to be there.

"Hello, Duchess," Pat greeted her, "I'll be with you and your little friend in a minute."

Lynnette smiled weekly. "Duchess?" She and Laura read their menus and put them down when Pat returned.

"Is Your Highness ready to order now?" Pat addressed Lynnette, "Milady is finally out of her boudoir this afternoon?"

"Pat, what are you talking about?"

"You told me last night on the phone that you were going to sulk all week."

"I feel better today, that's all."

"Give me your orders--if you're ready. I'm off work in a couple of minutes. Then we can talk."

"I'll have a patty melt and black coffee," Lynnette ordered.

"A bacon cheeseburger and a refill of iced tea," Laura said. She always had a patty melt. She wanted to climb out of the rut.

"You want fries or hash browns with that?"

"Fries."

"I'll get back to you," Pat said to Lynnette on her way to the kitchen. She treated Laura as a customer, Lynnette as a friend.

"She's going to ask me again to visit her and her family next weekend and stay for supper. She's invited you too, by the way."

Laura knew Pat hoped she would turn down the invitation. She was just being polite. Laura wished she could say yes but she had reluctantly made another commitment.

"Saturday? I did promise Nicole I'd go with her to 'The Make'."

" 'The Make'? Laura, that's a gay bar."

"Not necessarily."

"Everyone knows it's a gay bar, and a notorious one at that."

"Have you ever been there?"

"Of course not."

"The rumors you've heard are pure exaggeration, Lynnette."

"Like the rumors about your Dr. Jones, I suppose."

"He's not MY Dr. Jones, and I'm only going to talk with the man. I'll probably stay with the university's gender program."

"Probably?"

"Don't worry. Dr. Jones won't say anything that will change my mind."

"I should hope not. You've been acting strangely the last few weeks."

"What do you mean?"

"You've changed so much. Whatever happened to that awkward kid from Santa Fe?"

"You said I should be more assertive, so I'm assertive. That's all."

"I've decided I liked you better the other way. Now here you are, going to gay bars."

"I'm not going to gay bars!"

Pat overheard the conversation as she passed to another table. She couldn't resist chiming in. "Which gay bars?"

" 'The Make' for one." Lynnette proclaimed cynically.

Laura was defensive. "For one? It's the only one...And it's not just a gay bar."

Pat was sarcastic. "Sure it isn't. It's so much more. I'll be right back" She continued to deliver orders to the next table.

"Lynnette," Laura explained, "I'm only going once. End of subject."

"Sure. You'll try anything once."

Pat returned with their orders. "Here you are, ladies. I am officially off duty..." she said, looking at the wall clock, and setting the last plate down on the next word, "now. I hope Your Ladyship enjoys her patty melt." With that she bounced onto the booth couch next to Lynnette.

Lynnette smiled at her weakly. "What's with you today, Pat?"

"Nothing. It's just that you promise you're coming over for dinner and then you change your mind at the last minute."

"I told you more than twenty-four hours in advance."

"You wouldn't have if I hadn't called you."

"I was going to call."

"I doubt it. You were too busy brooding to think about it. Is that what you do every week: hole up in your cave and pity yourself?"

"I just needed to relax last night," Lynnette told her almost in baby talk.

"It's those damn tapes again, right?" Pat said, "Why don't you burn those things?...And that picture you haunt yourself and your friends with too?"

"They're important for my autobiography," Lynnette pouted.

Pat whispered but strongly, "Lynnette Powell! I thought the last thing you wanted was to be known for being a transsexual."

"I could use a pen name," she said poutingly. To Laura it was like seeing your angular yet sexy aunt turn into a little girl.

"This is Pat you're talking to, lady. I know you too well. You have no intention of being anonymous...There are other ways to be rich and famous, you know. You're bright enough and glamorous enough to make it without the shortcuts."

"You don't understand, Pat. I owe a debt to other T.S.s who--" The hypocrite, Laura thought. Lynnette was practically quoting Tiffany, who she probably did not even know.

"T.S.-B.S., Lynnette," Pat told her, then turned to Laura, "Pardon my french." and then closed in on Lynnette again. "With your looks and brains you could be a dynamite saleswoman and probably running your own business in a few years. You could even be a high fashion model--of the more mature sort, of course. Didn't I always say you were glamorous?"

"Yes, but--" Lynnette was smiling in a coquettish way.

"Well, you are, and you don't need that old photograph to remind you of how far you've come. It's who you are now that's important, right?...Now, are we still on for Saturday? Jack and the kids are expecting you."

Laura was amazed. Pat, just through knowing Lynnette--and Laura too--actually understood their situation better than Lynnette did. If only the whole world were so perceptive even in the early Twenty-first Century, the older Laura would think, looking back on those times.

"Well..." Lynnette hedged, knowing she was going to give in.

"Laura, I'd like you to come, too," invited Pat, considerately.

"I'd love to, but I'm going to the--" Laura started to say.

" 'The Make?' Of course. I forgot it's your hangout," Pat accused her.

"It's not my--"

Actually, Laura would have loved to meet Pat's kids. She loved children. In former times she had been a favorite of her younger cousins. She paid attention to them, she taught them games, she always had time for them. An opportunity was definitely being lost here but she had promised Nicole she would check out "The Make". Perhaps Pat would proffer another invitation one day. It never happened, as it turned out, but in her post-operative, post-Tenderloin life Laura finally got her chance to be a babysitter at least, on occasion, first when she lived in a Palo Alto, California basement apartment rented from the Korean-American family upstairs, later when she sat for her friend Nancy's kids in New Orleans, and still later when she did a little live-in housekeeping for a trailer park family in Houston. In the 80s Laura wondered how the author John Irving had known transsexuals make such good babysitters when he wrote the character of Roberta Muldoon in "The World According to Garp". Perhaps he knew "one of you people".

Pat checked the wall clock again. "Yes or no, Lynnette. I have to go."

"Alright. Yes." Lynnette shook her head but she was smiling.

"Good," Pat said standing, "I'll see you about 5:00?..." She waited for an answer and then coaxed, "Your Majesty?"

"Five it is ," Lynnette capitulated.

"Be there...Some other time, Laura?"

"Yes. Of course."

Laura and Lynnette finished their lunch in relative silence. They donned their coats and set out into the wind. They said their obligatory good-byes and began to go their separate ways when a pimply adolescent male voice shouted above the blowing.

"God, look at the drags!" it projected at least across the street.

CHAPTER NINE

Whatever self confidence either Laura or Lynnette might have had was crushed in that moment. Perhaps Lynnette had lost the words in the gusts but Laura heard. She was destroyed, at least for the day. What was wrong with the way they looked? Okay, so they were a little over-the-top makeup-wise but they didn't look like drag queens. Maybe it was a location thing. If they had been anywhere but the Tenderloin would they be insulted that way? Maybe this kid was projecting his prejudices on them. He wanted them to be drag queens for his own sick purposes.

Again, Laura turned to her poetry for solace. There had been good days and bad days in San Francisco. Sometimes the magic worked and sometimes it didn't. It didn't work this afternoon but maybe it would work tomorrow. She already began composing a poem in her head as she walked the windy streets homeward, remembering a young woman she had encountered that first week in the City. In her Laura saw herself, running the Tenderloin gauntlet of towering drag queens, street hustlers, and the everyday people passing to and fro. In the poem Laura addressed the young T.S. but she was really speaking to herself.

"Ellis Street Suite"

A little girl,
Just under six feet
Shuffles swiftly between
Painted towers
Stalking down
Ellis Street.

How much less bogus
Are you than they?
Does your wry smile betray
A lingering insecurity?

Shy little girl,
Pushing thirty,
Who could imagine
Even you could be
A total virgin?

Yet here you go
Through Proposition Alley
And down Queen's Row.

This is the crucible
In the bowels of the Tenderloin.
Here there are few smiles,
But many sneers.

Here expressions are jaded,
Faded,
And blank,
But for sly,
Dissecting eyes.

Here you MUST survive the glares.
Here you MUST pass.
You cannot escape the scrutiny
Of the derelict-hustler-merchant-
Addict-prostitute-tourist-
Closet queen-waitress-
Monster of countless eyes
And absent heart.

Upon reaching her apartment and her bed, Laura fell into a late afternoon nap but the poem continued to play in her head. Her dream interacted with the characters who had crossed her path. A black man nodded in a courtly and flirtatious way as he passed the Dream Laura. He spoke the next stanza of the poem.

You're so together today,
Little fox.
You SHINE so,
You flash the sun
Back on himself
And your beautiful soul
Eclipses your petty flaws.
THIS afternoon
You hear only:
"Hey, pretty lady!"
"Girl, you got fine legs!"
"Where you goin', Mama?"
You pass sternly by,
Then smile to yourself.
You love it.
Don't lie.
You know you do,
Little fox.

The poem continued deeper into the dream as Laura heard a Greek chorus.

The street echoes a Dylan refrain.
The street moans of desolation.
The street screams of each new rip-off.
The street is the world,
The environment,
The home,
The shelter,
The cave,
The cage.

Then Laura's own voice took over in her ear, clear and soft, and womanly.

Shy little girl,
Just under six feet,
You can be hometown sweetheart
If you make it on Ellis Street.


Laura slowly came into consciousness late in the afternoon. One eye open from her pillow told her the television was on but she did not budge for a while, the bed felt so good. She had turned the set on for some reason and fell asleep again. Merv was introducing a guest.

"You all know this next young man," Merv told his studio and TV audiences, "He is one of the most popular rock singers of the past few years. His third album, 'Christ Church, New Zealand'..." Merv halted for the screams from teenage girls. "...has just gone triple platinum. Here is Polynational Conglomerate recording star, Jeremy Church!"

There were more adolescent female shreaks and Laura opened her other eye. "Oh yeah," she thought, remembering why she was watching the show. A very hyperactive young man, his hair a halo of long bangs, shook hands with the host and sat in the chair by the desk.

"Hello, Merv," he said in a thick Australian brogue.

"Jeremy," asked Merv, "do you ever get tired of all the screaming and the...adulation of your fans?"

"Not really, Merv," he shouted over more screams, "It's what fame is all about, i'n' it? I mean, sometimes I'd like to go out without all the sheilas recognizing me, but crikey, what can you do?"

"It's like that story Mark Twain used to tell," Merv said, "about the man who was run out of town on a rail. Somebody asked, 'Are you alright?' and he replied, 'If not for the honor of the thing, I'd just as soon walk.' "

CHAPTER TEN

Part of Laura did not want to go to "The Make", gay bar or no gay bar, and part of her wanted to flirt, to be part of the whole courtship dance. Here she was in her late twenties and she had never been a teenager. Not really. She had had no body of her own, just a temporary one that did not fit, that did not suit her at all. Many others might have played the game and taken on that role assigned at birth but what was the point? Laura had some catching up to do, and for the very reason she was not actually a teenager, maybe she could be in control. Maybe she could be adolescent with the maturity of a grown up. She got to "The Make" and did not see Nicole and Nick, so she sat at the bar, trying to write a poem in the dim light while early disco, more "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" than "Saturday Night Fever", pumped around her, the dancers grinding to the beat.

"Among Amazons"

An innocent among Amazons
Writing poetry in the dark,
I strain my assaulted eyes and mind
to place myself in the world--
Any world.
I wonder at that,
But I know why I bloom on the wall
And erect my own Hell!

Laura looked around at the writhing bodies. Not seeing Nicole yet, she turned a page in her composition book and continued writing.

"1975"

It's 1975 and still
You can cut the "grass" smoke
With an ax. Bodies reeling, weaving, dipping
Rocking and sliding
Toward oblivion.
The world on the verge.
Of what?
More tomorrows?
Certainly.
It will do its 10 billion revolutions.
It will last the sun.
We can sleep our nights in peace
For that,
But that only.
All else looms a blank
All will pass
This week or next,
Or the third millennium;
But the now...
Oh, but the now,
Speck in time,
A moment's eternity.
This is the eve of what hidden dawn?
The whole four billion souls wait
For a trolley already late.

Laura looked at her poem for a moment, ripped the page out of the book. Wadding it into a ball she tossed it over her shoulder, but then thinking better of it, searched for it on the floor amid the dancing feet. It was kicked around the room along with the pieces which began "The young man who never was was pied and cookied and caked..." and "Play for me no martial airs, no stirring strains of war! " She wasn't quite sure if she hadn't plagerized that one. Finally giving up, she sat on a bar stool again, put away her pen and composition book into her purse, and pulled out a paperback. Looking about, there was still no sign of Nicole, so she started reading. After only half a page a very straight-looking shortish middle-aged man in a business suit sat down on the stool beside her, eventually trying to make conversation.

"Good book?" he asked.

Laura did not speak but showed him the cover of the her book.

"Oh." he said, 'Looking For Mr. Goodbar'...Waiting for someone?"

Laura tried to ignore him, buried as she was in the book. "No," she said.

"Can I buy you a drink?"

"No." She would not let her eyes leave the page.

After studying her a while he spoke. "Are you for real?...A woman, I mean."

That got her attention. She turned toward him. "What?"

"Well are you?"

"Of course." she said, then went looking for Mr. Goodbar again.

"No. You're not really. Are you?"

She put down the book. "Yes I am," she scolded, "Now please leave me alone."

"Let's prove it then!" he said, kissing her violently on the mouth while reaching under her skirt. Just as suddenly he yelled in pain and jumped back from his bar stool. The dancers stopped to see what is happening.

"You damn near bit my tongue off!" he almost screamed, "This bitch tried to bite my tongue off!"

Well, that was an affirmation, Laura thought. In the seventies the word "bitch" did not yet receive the misuse and overuse it would acquire in the next century. It was reserved for women only, and of course, female dogs. The bar's bouncer, a large man in a motorcycle jacket and a ponytail, removed the businessman, along with his hat and trenchcoat, from the premises, just as Nicole, with shy Nick in tow, came up to the bar. Everyone else went back to their dancing.

"You alright, Laura? Hey, that creep deserved what he got. Ya know, I'm proud of you for fightin' back like that. I woulda hurt him a lot lower than his tongue, but ya did alright for yourself, girl...Laura, there's this nice guy who's been askin' about ya. He's alright. Believe me."

Nicole made a "come here" motion to someone in the crowd. A quiet young man, somewhat shorter and maybe a few years younger than Laura, and holding a folded trenchcoat over his right forearm, responded to her sign language.

"Laura, this is Jeffrey. Jeffrey, Laura."

"W-would you like to d-dance, Laura?" Jeffrey stammered.

Laura glanced at Nicole quizzically but answered the guy, "Sure. Why not?"

Laura and Jeffrey found a space in the crowd and danced to the music. Nicole, satisfied she had made a match, found her own dancing partner as Nick anchored himself at the far end of the bar. Nick would oblige her with maybe two dances during the evening. He was content to sip at the bar. Laura was tentative at first, but she eventually seemed to enjoy herself. When the song ended, she and Jeffrey, as in a game of musical chairs, beat another couple to an empty cabaret table.

"You're a good dancer," Jeffrey told her.

"I don't get much practice," she said.

"Is it okay if I order a drink for you?"

"I don't drink, Jeffrey." That was not entirely true but she wasn't going to be caught off guard in this place.

"Really? N-neither do I," he decided, "How about a Coke?"

"Okay."

"I'll be r-right back."

Nicole and her partner danced over to Laura to see if things were going well.

"Girl, ya looked good dancin' out there. Didn't I tell ya Jeffrey was alright? Ya kinda hit it off with him, didn't ya?"

"He's alright," Laura smiled.

Sandy Eddy pulled her boyfriend David over to see Nicole and Laura, who was pleasantly surprised. Sandy was weavingly drunk and hanging around David's neck for support.

"Hey, Nicole and..."

"Laura."

"I knew that...Laura...Getting out to the old 'Make', huh?" Laura nodded, amused.

"Oh Laura, this is my David," Sandy said, "Not Michelangelo's David, but my David."

"Hi," Laura greeted him.

"Hello, Laura," said the less drunk David, "Come on, Sandy. I think it's time we got home." Laura hoped David was the designated driver, or that they would take the BART train back to Burlingame.

"Just one more boogie. Please Babe. Just one more," Sandy begged him.

"Alright. Just one more," he promised.

"Ol' Dave and I are gonna boogie one more boogie and go. See you folks later."

"Later," said Nicole.

"Good-bye," said Laura, and Sandy and David disappeared into the crowd dancing as Jeffrey returned with the Cokes.

"Would you like mine, Nicole?" Jeffrey asked her, "I only got the two."

"I was just leavin'," Nicole said, "Have fun, kids."

Nicole found another partner as Nick, at the bar, saluted her with his current drink. There was a long pause before Laura broke the ice.

"Are you originally from San Franciso, Jeffrey?"

"Y-yes."

There was another awkward pause.

"You're the first real native I've met," she continued, "Do you live in the City?"

"Yes."

Laura breached another long pause. "What kind of work do you do?"

"I work in my father's hardware store."

That was a sentence, at least, she thought. "That's interesting...Do you have any hobbies?"

This seemed to open him up a bit. "Yes. I do magic...I'm really very good. I hardly ever drop anything anymore...Laura?"

"Yes, Jeffrey?"

"I n-never asked anyone to do this b-before, but I feel like I could do it with you, L-Laura."

He really was out of his shell now. "Jeffrey, we just met. Don't you think--"

"I-I want you to be my b-beautiful assistant, in my m-magic act."

"Oh," she said, almost disappointed, and "Oh!" she said, almost relieved, "That's very flattering, Jeffrey, but I'm not a performer. As a matter of fact--"

He was animated now. "I'll teach you...Unless you d-don't want to see me anymore."

"That's not true, Jeffrey. It's just that we just met--"

"I'm too aggressive, r-right?"

"Lets just take things a step at a time."

"Does that mean you'll go out with m-me sometime?"

He was sweet and formal and old fashioned. "I'd like that," she said.

"Next week?"

"Well...okay." She was amazed at how things were moving right along.

"Here?"

"I'm not really a bar person."

"Do y-you know 'Her Majesty's Restaurant'?"

"Yes. I eat there all the time."

"Oh. We could go someplace nicer. I don't mind spending more on you. You're w-worth it."

Laura was positively blushing. "Thank you. 'Her Majesty's' will be fine."

"I can afford a more expensive restaurant," he said, "Really I can. It's not every day I meet a queen as sw-sweet as you--"

"A what?" A wall had just tumbled on her.

" 'Queen'? Oh. What would y-you prefer to be called?"

She felt hurt and betrayed. "Try 'Laura'...or 'woman'," she yelled, "Even 'girl' would be a step in the right direction!"

"I'm s-sorry," Jeffrey sank back into his shell, "I didn't mean to..."

"No. I'm sure you didn't...I've got to get out of here," she said, angry and on the verge of tears. She passed Nicole who was dancing with yet another partner, a flamboyantly dressed young man. Jeffrey was left in the dust, standing by the table confused and disappointed.

"Hi, Laura. Girl, I'd like ya to meet--" Nicole said as Laura breezed by toward the exit.

Laura stopped and turned to her, "We've been here more than two hours already. I'm going home."

"What is it, girl? I thought you and Jeffrey was gettin' along alright."

"I don't want to talk about it...you don't have to leave. It's only a couple of blocks to our building. The moon's almost full-- "

"Laura, I can't let ya go back alone. 'Specially not with that killer around and all, girl. Look, just give me a few minutes and we'll all go. Nick'll be glad ta get home early anyway. He's sittin' and drinkin' at the bar over there. He hates crowds and dancin'."

"Alright. A few minutes."

"I won't be long, girl. Just gotta say good-bye to a few folks...Laura, have you met Tyrone?" Tyrone was obviously gay but just as obviously male. "She's an old friend of mine from ages ago. We was--"

"She?!" Laura hated the gay turn of phrase.

"Laura, that's just the way I talk about her. It's like a custom here--just a friendly thing, ya know?"

"And I'm 'her' and 'she' the same way...he is: just another queen around here?"

"No girl. It ain't the same. It's like two different languages, Laura. You're--"

Laura was out of there like a shot. "Good night, Nicole!"

Nicole shrugged and danced with Tyrone. On her way out Laura knocked over a shortish man in a trenchcoat, its collar obscuring his face. She might have recognized him if she had noticed him. An object fell out of his coat and onto the floor. One of the regulars bent over to pick it up unseen by the escaping Laura.

"Hey, lover," he said, "Here's your box cutter. Be careful with that thing."

The man, without saying a word, put away the box cutter on some hidden loop under his coat and ordered a drink at the bar. Everyone else continued dancing but Laura was long gone into the night and up Ellis Street.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Laura was not meant for this scene. She was too sensitive, too principled, too picky, perhaps. Someone with such delicate sensibilities was destined for heartache. She was like the middle-class black girl she and her jogging friend Nancy had stood behind in a movie line once in Twenty-first Century New Orleans. The poor thing asked the ticket seller if the actors used the "N-Word" a lot in the film. Of course, she actually said "N-Word". Could she only exist around polite middle-class whites? Wouldn't she hear the dreaded "N- Word" from siblings or cousins? Wouldn't she hear it shouted down a neighborhood street? Or did she live in some gated enclave?

Laura was in her own enclave in the Tenderloin, mostly apart from the gay and transvestite hoi polloi, mostly away from the judgments of the outside world. She chose the world she lived in, for the most part, a T.S. island in a cruel world. It would be just the opposite of her life in the late Twentieth and the early Twenty-first Centuries. In that later time she would know only non-transsexuals. There was a loneliness but a comfort to it as well.

In the disco era she chose to spend some time with her friends from the therapy group. She felt like a big sister to the mercurial Jay Church. She knew Jay identified with the Australian rocker, Jeremy Church. Jay saw himself as a rock star and Jeremy shared his last name. He was even from Australia too. Laura often wondered, though, if Jay had called himself "Church" to identify with the celebrity. She also wondered if the flighty one was even Australian. What should it matter, she finally decided. All of that was Jay's business.

It was years before karaoke would come to the States but Jay had his own little set up with electric guitar and microphone and amplifier. He had to keep it down for the landlord and the other tenants in his apartment building but he cranked it up as much as he could get away with. One evening Laura was an audience of one for Jay Church in concert. He finished his set with a Jeremy Church classic.

"Don't gimme none of your lip, Francine," Jay sang, "I just wanna dance on your love!" "Ov, ov, ov, ov!" he echoed, each "ov" accompanied by a loud guitar chord ascending in pitch and volume. Then Jay played a fast riff and a final chord. Laura applauded. She could do little else, he was really very good.

"That's great!" she told him "I couldn't tell you from Jeremy Church himself!"

Jay took his bows to his audient. "Thank you, Laura. Thank you."

"When you said you were a rock singer I didn't realize you'd be so good. I never met a professional musician before."

"I don't exactly make my livin' at singin' yet, but I got this mate. He lets me sing at his club sometimes and he gives me a discount on beer. Have one?" he asked her offering a huge can, "It's Fosters--very Australian."

"No thanks. I'm not much of a drinker."

"Suit yourself, then," he said, bouncing on his bed. He couldn't do anything without bouncing. "You're missin' a real treat, you know," he told her, sipping the brew, "Good stuff!...You probably think it's strange to drink it warm like this, but that's the Aussie way."

"I've heard the English drink beer at room temperature. I thought Australians drank it chilled the way Americans do, but then I've never met anyone from "down under" before."

"Down under what?"

"Australia, 'the land down under'. Don't they call it that?"

"Right. Maybe it's the way you said it," he sipped defensively, "The English drink it warm too, do they? "

"That's what I've heard...What do you do when you're not singing in your friend's club?"

Jay stood and paced, a bantam rooster, a Southern Hemisphere Mick Jagger. "Oh, odd jobs mostly--clean-up/fix-up, painting houses," he said, "That sort of thing. What I really want to be is a rocker, though...You really like my singin'?"

"Fair dinkum," she ventured.

"Fair...dink-kum?"

"Don't they still say that in Australia? I heard it in an old movie once."

"Yeah. Sure. They say it all the time...Look Laura, the thing is, I haven't actually lived in Australia since I was three," he confessed, "I hardly ever run into Aussies and even when I do they're tryin' to act like Yanks. Besides, I don't let on I don't know all about my mother country. I want everybody to know I'm an Aussie like I want everybody to know I'm a male--not that I have any trouble with that. It's just the age thing that gets me. I don't have my new I.D. yet and I burned my old one. It's good I can buy my beer from Dirk at the club 'cause if I try to buy it in a store, they don't sell it to me, thinkin' I'm under age and me not havin' I.D. to back me up."

"I've been through I.D. hassles too, maybe for different reasons."

In the latter days of the Second Millenium Laura still suffered under the fantasy which afflicted her generation. The baby boomers believed in progress, despite the War in Vietnam, despite the deaths of Kennedy and King and Kennedy, despite Watergate and Iran-Contra and Ronald Reagan, despite the decline of affirmative action and the coming of the contract on America. In the early Third Millenium Laura was still hanging onto the old religion of hope and the betterment of the species. She had thought the world would come to accept her kind, to make some accomodation for their plight. In the late "Naughts", the first decade of the Twenty-first Century, though, Laura and the other "you people" were third class citizens in many ways. They could exist mainly under the radar of society. But it was still a world where you could be denied your rights, depending on where you lived, because of the color or your skin, your religion, your caste or your sexual identity.

"One of you people" could not marry, for the most part. Those who had achieved matrimony often were forced by retrogressive laws to give up their status. The gays had almost achieved the right of marriage even as that right was denied to new women and new men. When Laura first heard about the same-sex marriage movement she thought it a silly idea. Perhaps she was as guilty as the right-wing straights. Once some smart aleck in her office at the University of the Gulf thought he would both show his "liberalism" and "out" her at the same time by asking her views on gay marriage. Laura told him she thought marriage was only for the purpose of bringing families together in order to care for children, and that gay couples and barren couples and elderly couples should not be allowed to be married. Even though she was being facetious, that argument certainly shut the guy up. However, when she saw there was a real longing for wedded equality in the rainbow community, her heart went out to them. It was just that her people should have had those rights first as a matter of course. Afterall, they were not trying to change society, they merely wanted to change their places in society.

Even in the world of tomorrow, when Laura was in her sixties, some states would not allow a sex change on a birth certificate, or if they did, the individual would need to make an embarrassing public declaration. Laura wanted to see the world but in those post-911 times she could not even travel to Canada or Mexico without showing a passport, and with the wrong name and sex on it.

"Yeah...Laura, you really know about Australia, don't you?" Jay asked her.

"I read a lot. I guess I've picked up a few things over the years."

"Could you teach me about Australia?"

"I really don't know that much..."

"But you know a lot of things I don't. I can't talk to nobody else about it."

"Well, I could suggest some books at the public library...oh yeah, the I.D. problem...Okay. I'll check out some books for you...and tell you what little I know."

"You're a good mate, Laura! (suddenly kissing her on the cheek) I love you. I just met you a month ago and you've changed my life already...I'm goin' to tell you something...something that I never tell anybody, even Dr. Divisadero. Only Kay Ingleside, who is my best mate in the group, knows this...You have to promise never to tell this to anybody. I think I can trust you."

"I can keep a secret, but you don't really have to tell--"

"But I want to, Laura. Laura, do you remember what you said about me singin' like Jeremy Church?"

"Yes...Oh, you changed your name to "Church" because Jeremy Church is your idol? I wondered about that."

"No," Jay said, mildly irritated, "That's not it. I changed my name to "Church" because that's what it should be...Laura, Jeremy Church is my real life brother."

"Really? Are you sure?"

"I'd know something like that, wouldn't I?"

"Sure. I guess..."

"We're both from Australia, right?"

"Right."

"I was adopted when I was three. I had a brother who was ten years older. He ran away from home so he wouldn't be adopted."

"Jeremy Church did tell Merv on television that he ran away from home when he was thirteen."

"You saw him on the T.V.?"

"Yes. He was plugging his new album, "Christ Church, New Zealand"."

"See, 'Christ Church, New Zealand'. My real folks were from Christ Church. They lived there before I was born. Jeremy is from Christ Church. That's why he calls his record that."

"And not many people live in New Zealand, so how many families named 'Church' can there be?"

"Actually, his real name is 'O'Toole', but I guess there can't be very many 'O'Tooles' either."

"I suppose not."

"Laura, I don't have a television. Could I come over and watch next time Jeremy Church is on?"

"Alright. Every time I go to the store I'll pick up a T.V. magazine and check for Jeremy Church in the listings."

Jay jumped up and kissed her on the cheek. "Laura, I'm your mate for life!"

Laura new "mate" meant something different in Australian than in American. "Fair dinkum?" she asked.

"Fair dinkum."

CHAPTER TWELVE

So far Laura had struck out in publishing her poetry but she decided to take Kay Ingleside's advice and recite it at a coffee house. "The Bean Soup Coffee House" got its name from a joke Alice Sutter had told Laura. The owners must have heard the joke too. "If it's bean soup, what is it now?" Laura guessed it would have been funnier in London or maybe Ottawa.

"I fly to the dawning sun--" Laura intoned quite seriously.

"Speak up! Into the mike! Microphone!" shouted voices from all around her.

A bit louder she proclaimed, "I fly to the dawning sun...I"

One of the voices cut her off "Use the microphone!"

Laura adjusted the microphone, almost dropping her composition book. She heard loud feedback from the mike.

"I fly to the dawning sun..," she tried again, searching through the book, "I..uh..."

"We know," shouted another rude voice, " you fly to the dawning sun."

There was some general laughter. Laura found another page to read. "Let me do another one. I seem to have misplaced the final version of that one...This is another ecological selection."

"Brother..." complained one of the voices.

Laura read the poem with all the confidence she could muster.

"The Lot"

It was the last patch of green on earth.
Just a lot it was,
Grown up with Johnson grass and thistles
And encircled by a ring of shade trees
(Post oaks, cedar, and sycamore.)
Their leaves spotted the setting sunlight
And from inside them came myriad mockingbird cries
Anticlimactically proclaiming "This is my last domain."

Sad, I thought, that this uninspired spot
Was the last lot left.
I could reel my thoughts to lands past:
Bountiful veldts, heroic steppes, noble tundra,
Rare oases of arid climes, serene northern woods,
Rainforests lush...
All harbors of vibrant life, all magnificent,
And all more worthy to remain than this weedy backyard.

This refuge from a developer's plow
Was all that there was.
All around stretched the asphalt world
Of concrete and gypsum and glass and steel.
Barren sand covered the surrounding hills.
Beneath the orange and gray trophosphere
The black-green sludge pools sparkled with oil rainbows
And the highway net was strung from sea to vacant sea.

Tomorrow would be the last of it.
The ever-present bulldozers,
The instruments of rape, would come.
The little green lot would be no more.
A chalky gravel mobile home park, then,
Would take this wasted space for itself.
While it lasted the lot was the vestige of spring,
But, all too quickly, the impatient sun was setting.

There was polite applause, for a change, and maybe a "Not too bad." from someone in the coffee house. Laura had a few sips of coffee after she left the little stage. Then she ran to catch a cable car homeward in the fog. She walked briskly along clutching her overstuffed composition book. Few people passed by. She seemed to feel someone following her and she quickened her pace. A shortish figure in a trench coat materialized out of the fog and began to follow her. Laura stopped, looked and listened at an intersection. The trenchcoated figure caught up to her as she crossed. She jumped to the side and walked even quicker.

"J-jay? Is that you?" she called out thinking there was something familiar in the figure, "Oh...uh...Jeffrey, right? Look..."

The trenchcoat belonged to a stranger who asked "Do you live around here?"

"Who are you?" she asked cautiously.

"I live here, you know," he said.

"That's nice," she said but it wasn't particularly.

He jogged around in front of her and asked, "What's your name?"

"Mary," she lied.

"Grand old name, they say."

"That's what they say," she agreed, loping away from him.

"Oh Mary!" he called, chasing her. Then he caught up to her and slapped her on the shoulder. "Tag, you're it! " he said skipping away like the child he might have been twenty years back.

Laura stopped in her tracks breathing heavily and then ran through the fog, forgetting the cable car, all the way back to her apartment house. In her bed, finally, she didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so she just screamed into her pillow. Somehow she fell asleep but she awoke with a start at sunrise and stayed awake the rest of the day.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

It was Laura's first slumber party. And Nicole's and Alice's too. Well, no one was sleeping over because their bedrooms were nearby in the same building but Laura thought of it as a slumber party. She lay prone on her bed flanked by the other two in front of her RCA color television. Alice held the popcorn bowl with an air of possession. After all, hadn't she grilled up the Jiffy Pop on her own illicit hot plate? The others reached and grabbed handfulls of kernals intent on the late night interview show. On the tube, Ol' Tom spoke to the camera.

"With us here in New York is transsexual Tiffany O'Farrell," he said.

Laura put in her two cents. "I didn't know Tiffany's first name was 'Transsexual'."

"Shhhhh!" shushed Alice.

Tom in his New York studio continued, obviously ignoring them. "As we said at the outset, Tiffany's surgeon, Dr. Robert Jones, who performed sex reassignment surgery on Ms. O'Farrell in November of last year, will join us later...Ms. O'Farrell, are you feeling alright now? When you were last with us, almost two years ago, you had not yet undergone the transsexual procedure. Is there a great deal of pain involved? Weren't you just a little apprehensive beforehand? After all, it is an irrevocable step to take. Do you have any regrets?"

"Well Tom," Tiffany chimed in without missing a beat, "to answer your questions in order: fine, somewhat, just a little and none at all." Tom laughed his hearty laugh as Tiffany continued. "In the last year Dr. Jones and I have written a book. It's entitled 'Tiffany and the Transsexual Experience'."

Again, Laura couldn't help herself. "Sounds like a punk rock group, doesn't it?"

"Laura..." Alice cautioned.

And again Tom didn't seem to notice. "When we bring out Dr. Jones we will discuss the book, but my question is 'What is life like for Tiffany O'Farrell in San Francisco, California now as opposed to the way it was before the sex-change operation?'"

"Not so hard," Tiffany said. If that was supposed to be some kind of quip, Laura found it inappropriate.

"I mean," Tom went on, "is there anything you can do now that you could not do before?"

"Oh Tom, let me count the ways."

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Tif, don't do this to me."

"Tif?" Nicole asked.

"We are kind of backlogged with commercials tonight," Tom announced, "so we'll take a break and return to this discussion with Tiffany O'Farrell and Dr. Robert Jones when we continue in a moment."

Laura sat up, stood, and received the empty popcorn bowl from Alice. Since this was a time before the dominance of microwave ovens, since her flat had no kitchen, and since they had burned the last of the Jiffy Pop, anyway, she replaced the popcorn with party mix from a bag.

"Laura," Nicole asked her, "doesn't Tiffany look fabulous on the television? Girl, I'll bet she sells a hundred thousand copies of the book."

"I wouldn't be at all surprised."

Laura passed the bowl to Nicole and sat on the bed in lotus position.

"Besides the promotion," said Alice, "Tiffany is calling attention to the problems of transsexuals everywhere."

"The show has certainly been educational so far," Laura said sarcastically.

"Laura, how did you become such a cynic?" Alice wanted to know, "When you first came here from Santa Fe you were much more--wait. The show is back."

Tinkly piano music brought up the late night interview set and Tom in the show's signature extreme close up.

"Joining us now is Dr. Robert A. Jones," he said, "San Francisco physician and surgeon..."

"And..." Laura started to cut in.

"Don't say it, Laura," Alice warned.

Tom didn't stop. "...who has performed scores--perhaps a hundred maybe?"

"Quack," Laura completed her thought, miming a duck's wings with her elbows.

"Laura..." said Alice.

"Yes," said Dr. Jones on the box, "At least a hundred."

"Over a hundred transsexual surgeries, including that of Tiffany O'Farrell. Doctor, are there many like Tiffany in the United States?"

"Laura...," cautioned Alice.

"I didn't say a thing," said Laura

"Tom," the doc said, "I don't have the exact statistics but I would guess there have been a few thousand sex- reassignment procedures to date nationwide."

"Tiffany," Tom said bringing her back into the conversation, "how did you come to find Dr. Jones for the purpose of obtaining this procedure?"

"She just looked under a rock and..." Laura blurted out.

"Yeah." Nicole had to agree.

"Laura!" scolded Alice.

"Sorry. I couldn't resist it." Laura didn't care.

"The two of you have written a book together entitled 'Tiffany and the Transsexual Experience'," Tom continued, " How did that collaboration come about? Was this something that you planned to do before Tiffany's operation was done or was there something unique about her experience which prompted your putting the whole thing down in print?"

"I think I can answer that, Tom," Tiffany offered, "Dr. Jones was approached by the publishers to write a book on transsexualism from the standpoint of a single individual, but with the insights and expertise of a concerned professional to add credibility. As you may or may not know, most transsexuals want to avoid publicity, to fade into the woodwork, so to speak, to lead ordinary lives. I myself had some trepidation about gaining any national notoriety as a result of revealing my life story..."

"Give me a break," Laura said.

"Shhh!" Alice said.

Ol' Tom then embarked on a familiar tale, or tried to. "What was that Benjamin Franklin story? You know, the one he told about some guy on the railroad. He said something about it being more of an honor to walk...Anyway, back to the book. You decided to go ahead and pen the darn thing..."

"That's right, Tom," Tiffany answered him, "I have done a great deal of community work--counseling mostly-- on behalf of transsexuals...and I made that other appearance on this show, so I guess I have no hope for total anonymity anyway. Besides, someone has to show what transsexuals are really like."

"Oh God!" Laura said, "If people think all transsexuals are like Tiffany, they'll bring back concentration camps! "

The slumber party took an inevitable turn toward violence.

"Enough! Enough! Enough!" Alice cried as she beat Laura mercilessly with a pillow.

Laura took her other pillow and fought back, knocking Alice's wig akilter and showing the underlying pantyhose cap. Pillows and Chex Mix flew obscuring an entire segment of the talk show but no one cared in Laura's room.

They almost had a community going in that apartment house on Larkin, almost a family, but it was a short-lived phenomenon. Laura and company knew it wouldn't last. That it existed at all was thanks to the legendary Rhonda, their landlady. Laura only ever saw her from afar, only close enough to see her face was a bit pockmarked, that she was older, maybe forty. As best Laura could figure, Rhonda lived on inheritance and whatever she derived from the apartment rents. Apparently, she wanted to reserve a haven for struggling transsexuals, although the majority of her tenants were the usual non-transsexual Tenderloin types: drug dealers, transvestites, prostitutes, gays, legitimate but low-wage shop workers, and what have you. Of course, many of the renters combined several of those classifications. The tendency was for someone like Laura to drift away from others like her, to try to blend in with the larger society. She didn't want to be T.S. all her life, and there was always the possibility people would guess where you came from if you hung around other people with the same flaws. The downside of this ultimate self-segregation was that later in life, say in the early Third Millenium, Laura had no one around her who had solved the same problems she faced. She was on her own.

In the 1970s Laura was in deep REM sleep hours after the T.V. watching party. The ringing of her telephone awoke her. She groped to answer it.

"Laura." It was Alice Sutter's voice.

"Alice, it's almost three o'clock in the morning."

"You know Sandy Eddy."

"Yes, I know Sandy..."

Laura could almost hear ominous bass viol notes drifting through the fog outside. "Laura, she's dead...She was killed after coming out of 'The Make' around eleven last night. She was murdered."

"Oh God."

"April Washington found her in the alley. The slasher did it. Sandy's body was...well, sexually mutilated like the guy was disappointed she wasn't the woman he thought she was. Her throat was slashed and her face--"

"Please, Alice. I don't want to hear the details."

"I just thought you should know..."

"Yes...Thanks."

"Well, take care and don't go out at night by yourself."

"I won't."

"Good night then."

"Good night."

The murders had come home to Laura in the worst way. Sandy was her great hope. Maybe Laura wouldn't have made it in this world but Sandy would have. If Sandy couldn't, what hope was there? Laura had to be her own ideal now. When Twenty-first Century Laura thought back to those times, she knew Sandy's death was when it all changed for her. From that day forward Laura would take life into her own hands. Maybe there were forces poised to stop her but they would have to kill her to do it.

Laura tried to sleep off Sandy's death. Afterall, it could have been just a bad dream. Murder was something that happened in the movies or on T.V. It never touched anyone you actually knew. She couldn't sleep at first, and when she did, she overslept and had to call in sick to the Tenderloin Counseling Center that morning. Another telephone call woke her long after dawn.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

"Do you know who this is?" the voice said in an aristocratic Mexican accent.

Of course she did. "Mother?"

"Well, you haven't completely forgotten. That's something."

"How are you? How's Dad? I haven't heard--"

"I promised your father I would drive by to see you when I visit your Aunt Minny in Seattle."

"When?"

"Very soon. Now, is there someplace...neutral we can meet? I don't want to get caught in the midst of your freakish buddies...I hope you'll understand."

"There is a restaurant near here..."

"In public?"

"Unless you want to come up to the apartment..."

"No, a restaurant will be fine."

"It will be wonderful to see you again." she lied.

"It won't be so wonderful for me. I hope you understand. But I promised your father I'd see if you were well--although how I'll be able to tell, what with all that makeup you wear..."

"Not so much anymore."

"So what is the name of this place?"

"The restaurant?"

"Yes, the restaurant."

"It's called "Her Majesty's" and it's on Ellis Street near Larkin."

"I'll find it. I'll write you when I know the exact date I'm coming."

"Do you have my address?"

"I'll get it from your father. Good-bye now."

The outside world was invading Laura's life. She wanted to see her mother, and she did not want to see her mother. The last time they had met, the first time after Laura's big move, the maternal unit seemed to make a point of referring to her by the wrong name and the wrong pronoun, letting her know what her place really was in the world. Dad had at least tried to understand, as confused as he was about the whole thing.

Even thirty years later Laura had little contact with her family. Her sister married, divorced, married once more, had a couple of children, and never contacted her again. Laura only knew what was happening in Linda's life through their parents, mostly their father. Laura's mother practically disowned Laura, even though her father made sure she would be provided for in his will. A handfull of cousins, all women, on both sides of the family eventually got in touch. They communicated with her through e-mail and snail mail, and met Laura in restaurants and in city parks from time to time. One or two seemed genuinely interested in regaining some kind of relationship, friendship even, but the rest were merely curious and she imagined them to be giggling at her behind her back.

align="justify"In the Second Millenium Laura had been awakened with bad news twice--news of death and mother visitation--and didn't particularly want to get together with Lynnette Powell in "Her Majesty's Restaurant" that midday but she showed up anyway.

Lynnette was stern. "Sit down, Laura," she said, "I was just leaving."

"Lynnette, I'm sorry I'm late. I didn't get much sleep last night. Then my mother called early this morning. I finally fell asleep about six thirty and overslept. I just got out of bed and called in sick to work. Then I remembered I was meeting you for lunch. I got here as soon as- -

"No excuses necessary. But maybe subconsciously you wanted to oversleep. Have you thought about that?"

"Look, someone I know was murdered last night, okay?"

"Now you're grasping at straws, Laura. Never mind. I forgive you," Lynnette decided as she stood, leaving a stack of bills on the booth table.

Pat the waitress was there with a pot of coffee. "She hates it when people are late, but she can be late," she said to Laura, "What do you want?"

"Hi Pat...A patty melt, house salad and iced tea."

After Pat left again for the kitchen Lynnette said, "I'll call you later." and marched out the door.

Laura took out a sheet of paper from her purse, held it up to read, and set it on the table. Pat returned for Lynnette's cash.

Pat counted it. "A dollar short," she said.

"I didn't take it."

"Didn't say you did. You good for it?"

Laura found three dollars in her purse. "Of course. Here...plus tip."

"Swell," Pat said, underwhelmed, gathering the bills, "I'll be back."

When Pat was gone Laura took a pen from her purse, and made a quick correction on the paper, reading as she composed a poem.

"Homesick"

Homesick
For a time and a place
That is no more,
Never was, and
May never be.
How sad...
Sweet time,
Where is it?
Is it lost for good?
Never for the good.
Where did it go?
Was it ever near?
Near enough to touch,
But I didn't.
So sad...
It was always sad.
Why should it change?
Nothing changes really,
But nothing stays the same
For long.

As much as Laura did not want to deal with Lynnette that day, she came to wish Lynnette had stuck around when Alice Sutter and Tiffany O'Farrell stormed into "Her Majesty's".

"Laura...How are you today?" Alice said, taking a place opposite Laura in the booth.

"Oh Hi." Laura said ducking back into her poem. Tiffany and Alice plopped down on either side of her making the booth upholstery, and Laura, bounce both times.

Alice came on like an insurance agent with a prospective customer. "Looks like you didn't get much sleep last night," she said, "Neither did I, so I played hooky from work and my business classes. I had to meet Tiffany at the airport anyway...We were actually looking for YOU. The counseling center said you called in sick and you weren't at home, so we thought there was a chance you'd be here."

"Well, you found me."

"Sandy's boyfriend David called me about the funeral. It's in Colma, naturally. He's planning a short memorial afterward...The family only wants relatives to attend the funeral itself. They're afraid to deal with anyone who really knew Sandy the last few years. David is banished and so are the rest of us, but we'll meet and remember her later in our own way...Being a poet, I thought you might want to write something for the occasion. I know it's short notice.

Laura was taken aback, almost surprised at Alice's sincerity. "I would be honored. Thank you."

"There is something else, Laura," Tiffancy said, "Dr. Jones says you have not yet paid him a visit."

So that was why they are here, Laura thought. "There really is no point in it, Tiffany. Alright, I'm sorry about all my disparaging remarks about Dr. Jones, but I've decided to stay with the university's gender program."

Alice joined in the attack. "Suit yourself, Laura, but it's possible there will be no university program by the end of your probation."

"That rumor has been making the rounds for years." Laura told her.

"I think the situation at the university is coming to a head," Tiffany pressed, "With Dr. Stanyan retiring the gender program could be on its last legs. I'm sure you realize the university hospital's board of governors has been hostile to the program from its inception. Only Dr. Stanyan's international prestige has kept it going as long as it has."

Laura didn't care for academic politics. She started to answer but "I'm sure Dr. Parnassus--" was all she got out.

"Parnassus is out of his league," Tiffany opined.

"Well, they can't just close it down. They have to honor their commitments." Laura did not trust Tiffany's information or its implications.

"Don't stake your life on it," Tiffany went on, "Oh, they'll refer you to clinics in other cities, other states--many on the verge of closing also, by the way. Our cause is considered frivolous, unpopular, too risky to insure. Only a few private clinics will take a chance. Eventually you'll be forced to go to Dr. Jones--if he'll have you--or to someone of more questionable skill and ethics."

"There's no such animal," said Laura.

Alice piled on her. "I can't believe you would risk putting off the operation for several years...or forever."

Tiffany was merciless. "If you ARE transsexual--which I'm beginning to doubt--you would rather die than live as a transvestite or pretend to be a guy for the rest of your life. Am I right?" Tiffany could see her answer in LAURA's eyes. "I thought so. You WILL see Dr. Jones this afternoon, won't you?"

"I'll think about it," Laura stalled.

"Don't think too long. His office closes at 6:00. Alice, I think Laura has had a change of heart about Dr. Jones."

"Laura, you won't regret it," said Alice hoping Laura had accepted their message.

"I regret it already," Laura said.

"Just keep an eye on me," Alice said enthusiastically, "I'll show you how it's done. I'm all set to check into the clinic next Monday night. The surgery is Tuesday morning. I'll finally be a whole woman!...The rest of the group will go "under the knife" on the following four Tuesdays. You'll take Sandy's place. You can go last, if you like. Sandy really thought very well of you, Laura. She would have wanted you to take her place...Look, I've watched a lot of girls go through this. It's a "piece of cake"...Anyway, we'll leave you to eat in peace and get ready to see Dr. Jones...Come on, Tiffany. She knows what to do now. Laura, we'll see you at the memorial service. 'Bye now."

Tiffany had the last words. "Remember Laura, before six o'clock today. Good-bye."

Laura had no intention of seeing Dr. Jones but she did begin to wonder if she was the greatest procrastinator since Hamlet. No, she had principles, even if no one else shared them, even if no one else could make heads or tails of them. She would always have her principles, perhaps to her detriment, though they may have made sense only to herself.

In the early Twenty-first Century transsexuals sometimes would show up on television in tabloid talk shows. The worst shows were the ones in which someone told her clueless boyfriend, in front of millions of viewers, that she "used to be a man", a statement that would have stuck in Laura's craw. The boyfriend was always shocked, if not homicidal. But what did the guy think was going to happen on an episode called "Incredible Secrets Revealed"? His girlfriend was either going to admit to being transsexual, a hooker or his long lost mother. Laura never would understand why people would volunteer to be humiliated on national television like that.

Oh there were the occasional scientific documentaries. Laura would watch them on TV whenever they came along but they were always the same. Every five to ten years the same information would be presented. The producers said these people existed, explained what they were, and sometimes what they were not. They would show a few examples, male to female, female to male, some more passable than others. They would explain there were so many thousands of these people and that there were hospitals and clinics which performed the operations. Basicly, the same program was remade each time. One of these shows from the 1970s was the same as one in the 80s, 90s or the Naughts. There was nothing new.

In the Naughts several fictional TV shows had TS characters. Sometimes they were played by beautiful actresses of the genetic female persuasion, sometimes sympathetically, sometimes just for laughs. Rarely, an actual transsexual actress would play the part, sometimes sympathetically, sometimes for laughs. One of the more celebrated "you people" showed up on a reputable interview show once but Laura was dismayed to hear that this one considered "transsexual" and "transgendered" to be the same thing. It most certainly was not. The former was a serious person trying to live her life. The latter was a catchall term lumping people like Laura in with fetishists and drag queens. Laura would have none of that.

Laura did swing by Dr. Jones' office just to say she did. It was after six, and she knew it was after six. She was starting to doubt her own sense of ethics, though. Maybe everything Alice and Tiffany told her was the truth. Maybe Laura would miss her chance to be a woman merely by procrastinating. If the university stopped doing the surgery, where would she go? How would she afford it? What surgeon could she trust? It gnawed on her mind but she had her mission. She would write a eulogy for Sandy's funeral.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Sandy's body was already in the ground when the little motley group including Laura, Nicole, Alice Sutter, Alice Geary, Tiffany and Sandy's David finally gathered under a nearby tree. They waited for Sandy's family and family friends to clear away from the gravesite. David had promised that he and Sandy's friends would keep their distance during the actual funeral. Once everyone was present David led them to her headstone. He had seen it earlier in the day but this time he broke into tears as he hung a sash across it with her proper name printed on it. He gathered his strength and spoke as best he could.

We just had a little argument," he said, "It was nothing. Sandy got angry and said she had to get away back to the City, back to the old neighborhood. She loved the house, the suburbs, even Burlingame--I'm convinced of that. But with the new job, I had to put in a lot more time at the store. I told her it was only a temporary thing, but she wasn't used to staying home alone. We were finally going to spend our first night alone together in almost a month when I got a call about an inventory problem. We argued, Sandy got mad, she walked right to the BART station and rode the train into the City. That was the last I ever saw of her. It wasn't even much of an argument. She was just restless...I spent most of this morning trying to deal with Sandy's parents. Her mother came for her things. She's welcome to them...Not that she was greedy. She didn't take anything that would show Sandy to be a woman. Sandy's clothes are still there, so are pictures of us together. I guess I should be grateful...I'm glad to see many of her friends here today. I...uh...listened to the funeral from the back of the crowd. Of course, they used her male name and that name is on her tombstone...like Sandy never existed...just this "son" of theirs who was nothing but an embarrassment to them in life, so they made sure "he" can't hurt them anymore in death...But I'll remember her. We all will...Anyway, I've said more than enough. I understand that Laura has written a poem, a eulogy, for the occasion. Laura?"

Laura stood up to the plate. She said, "It's very short, but to the point." and then she read it.

"Remember Me"

Forget me not.
Know that I've been.
Recall me.
I'll be once again.
Just recollect
And I'll always be.
Remember me.
Remember me.
Remember me.

That could have been me under that stone, Laura thought, and in a sense, it was her. She knew funerals were for the living, but still, this was revisionism, completely rewriting Sandy's life for the comfort of the family. Sandy's family was able to control her in death when they could not in life. This would probably be Laura's fate too, she realized, if she were to die before her parents, and her hard sister would most likely outlive her too. Maybe she could have a life and an identity under her own destiny by the time she checked out. She hoped so.

The usual dream came back to Laura each night. On the eve of the day her mother was to visit, her father spoke in the dream at the usual point but he seemed different this time.

"Lawrence, don't run from..." he started to say, "Lawrence, no...Larry I...Laura?"

For the first time Laura's mother invaded her dream. "I forbid you to call him that," she said.

Somewhere between her father's and her mother's words, mostly in Spanish, there was an argument and some crashing of furniture in the distance. The sounds grew louder and woke Laura from her dream. She slowly recognized a voice. It was coming from Nicole's room down the hall.

"Nick don't! Nick!"

She heard the door slam. Then there was silence except for Nicole's faint weeping. Laura swung out of bed and pulled on her robe. She wandered into the dim light of the hallway. It was almost dawn already.

"Nicole?" she called outside her friend's apartment, "Nicole, are you okay?"

The door opened slowly and Nicole stepped slouchingly into what light there was, her right hand covering her right eye.

"Oh girl..." Nicole sobbed, "He never hit me before...Not this hard anyway..."

Laura could see the shiner even in this light. "Was it Nick?" she asked, "Nick did this? Should I call the police?"

"The police? Girl, you wanna call the police on Nick?...No. Don't do that...I'll be okay."

"Do you need a doctor?"

Nicole shook her head. Terry and Arvis trudged upstairs and stopped on the other side of Nicole's door.

"What the fuck is goin' on here?" demanded Arvis.

"I think I can handle this, sweetheart...," Terry assured her, "Now, Nicole, what the fuck's goin' on?

"Nicole and Nick had a fight," said Laura.

"The bastard!" said Terry, seeing the black eye, "He's out. That's it. I don't care if he was paying extra rent. Where is he?"

"Gone," said Nicole, "out."

"Well, if he comes back, tell him he's banned from the premises."

"Please don't, Terry," Nicole begged.

"Break any furniture?" Terry wanted to know.

"A lamp...a chair...That's all I guess."

"Tell the son-of-a-bitch he's banned unless he replaces what he broke."

"I will...Thanks, girl."

"Best put a steak on that eye. Sorry, but we gotta go. Gotta look for my baby. She's run away from her dad again--and she didn't come to me this time. I'm worried. Come on, Arvis."

Terry and Arvis stomped their way down the stairs.

Nicole had regained her composure. "Girl," she said, "I got a mess to clean up."

"Need some help?" Laura offered.

"Thanks, girl, but no. I gotta do it myself. Girl, I need time to think what do to next. Guess I'll ask Dr. Jones if I can work full time for a while."

"Nicole, will you be alright?"

"Yeah girl. I'll doctor the bruise and lay low until it heals a little. You goin' to work this morning?"

"I'm taking the day off. My mother is in town."

"That's real nice, girl."

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?"

Thinking back, maybe Laura had never been really close to her mother, and neither had her sister Linda. There must have been a time when they were babies and small children when there had been motherly contact, affection, devotion, but Laura hadn't felt it since then. Mom seemed to have considered Linda somewhat of a rival in her teenage years, and Laura, or whoever Mom thought she was, had been something of a disappointment. What irked the matron now was that she had another rival on her hands, and a rival who had no right to exist, at least not as Laura.

The dad was one of those rarest of creatures: a parent who recognized his offspring as individuals, bringing their own souls into this world. Fathers, Laura observed, were in general more concerned with replicating themselves and passing on their names than helping their children to become successful as individuals. Mothers saw their children as genetic machines for delivering grandchildren. Of course, this was mostly subconscious. Parents thought they wanted the best for their sons and daughters, but Laura knew that the majority of humans were cogs in this procreation factory, no more in control of their lives than dogs in the street and fish in the sea.

Then you throw ethnicity into the mix and all reason flies out the window. Mom was a proud Mexican of aristocratic bent. Her family had had servants back in Guadalajara. Her family was mestizo, mesclado, mixed Spanish and native Mexican, but they thought themselves above the indios around them, more or less European culturally. When she married a Yankee savage, her father, the trucking magnate, almost disowned her.

Laura's father's family, though, were proud of their Comanche heritage--after a generation or so of shame. The story was that Great-Great-Grandfather, when the U.S. Cavalry was rounding up Comanches for the reservation, had deserted the tribe and changed his name. He had learned Spanish in Catholic school, and had been a star pupil. When he heard the soldiers were coming he hid his family in a little shack on the Sabinal River in West Central Texas. He took the name of the River for himself and became Hector Sabinal. Luckily, the blue coats never came, so he and his wife and his four children eeked out a living planting corn and hunting. Years later a flood took their little farm and they migrated into New Mexico. Hector found work there as a vaquero and a blacksmith. His sons became vaqueros too. His wife and daughters took in washing. By the turn of the Twentieth Century the Sabinals were, if not in Santa Fe society, at least pillars of the Mexican American community there. A small plot of land they settled in the 1880s grew to a sizeable cattle ranch, and they were store owners, barbers and restaurateurs. The Sabinals married hispanics and even anglos but they remained dark and fierce and high cheek-boned when Oscar Sabinal, Jr. met Lidia Consuelos-Diaz on a business trip to Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.

Lidia was visiting relatives with her parents and older brother. For a lark they toured Horse Tail Falls and Garcia Caverns near Saltillo, Coahilla. Oscar had been mustered out of the army at the end of World War II, and his father had sent him on the trip to buy silver pieces for the family jewelery store. He was there in Saltillo as well, taking in the subterranean coolness inside the mountain. When Lidia tripped in the dark cave, almost knocking the tour guide over a railing, Oscar caught her, and something clicked. She fell in love with his savage Yankee accent and he fell in love with her genteel ways. When he came to call at her cousins' house, Lidia's mother almost sicked the dogs on Oscar. Over the years Señora Consuelos-Diaz came to accept the dark indio. He was enterprising, he was hard-working, and she could see he was faithful to her daughter, something she couldn't say for her own husband. Lidia Sabinal married Oscar and moved to New Mexico. She became staunchly American yet not totally forgetting her aristocratic upbringing, with a clear sense of what is proper and how things should be.

Laura waited apprehensively for her mother in one of the red booths of "Her Majesty's Restaurant", not unlike the many times she had awaited her friend Lynnette there. The prim, business-like Mrs. Sabinal flew in from the rainy street.

"Hi, Mom," Laura said rising as her mother almost passed her by.

"Oh God," exclaimed the mom, "It IS you. What are you doing to yourself to look like that? No, don't tell me."

Laura almost told the truth. "It's good to see you."

"Would you sit down? You're making a spectacle."

Laura took her place in the booth. If she were a spectacle, no one in the restaurant seemed to care. "Did you have a good trip?"

"How could I look at you looking like that and have a good trip?"

"How's Dad?"

"Your father gave me a message to relate to you. Now, this is him saying this, not me, understand?"

"Sure. What did he say?"

"He says he loves you...Well, I love you too. Don't ever say your mother doesn't love you...He says he loves you whoever you are and whatever you do but just be sure you know what you're doing...I told you that wasn't from me."

"Thanks...Have you...uh...heard from Linda lately?"

"Your sister's fine but that's all she wants me to say. She says she doesn't want you knowing her business and she doesn't want to know yours. There is one other thing I am to say just this once. You are never to come near her or her husband or her boys."

"I see."

"She seems harsh, but can you blame her? She doesn't love you with a mother's love like I do...And, of course, you do realize you are never to come back to Santa Fe..."

Pat the waitress entered with her pad and pencil. Well, Laura thought, now everyone in my life who couldn't care less about me is present and accounted for.

"Ladies, can I get you something for breakfast?" Pat asked brightly.

"I'll have the Number Two Breakfast and a small orange juice," said Laura, "Mom?"

The mother winced, "Just coffee please."

Laura wasn't sure she wanted Pat to make conversation but she did. "So you're Laura's mother. Nice to meet you. Your daughter's one of our regulars, you know. It's easy to see where she gets her good looks. How would you like your eggs, Laura?"

Why is Pat being nice to me, Laura wondered. "Sunnyside up, only cooked a little more and--" she started to say.

Her mother broke in. "He means he wants them over easy. That's the way he's always had them. Why he can't remember "over easy" is beyond me. When he was a boy--"

"What's all this "he" business?" Pat asked, actually defending Laura, "I see what's going on here. You just can't play the game, can you Mom?"

"Oh God. It's another one of THEM."

"No," said Pat, "but I know my manners. I see all kinds come in here every day. I see how they act and I see how they dress. I treat them accordingly. But you know something? Your daughter here...yes, your DAUGHTER here is a cut above those posers--maybe five or six cuts above. And do you know why? Because she's the real thing. Now I don't care what she was back home or what the doctor said she was when she was born or what some blood test might say she is. I don't even know how it can be possible, but any moron can see she is a woman. So why can't you? Why WON'T you? You should be proud you have such an intelligent...beautiful...graceful...kind-hearted...daughter. There. I said it. I'll be back with your Number Two Breakfast and YOUR coffee."

The mom's and Laura's mouths hung open as Pat started for the kitchen. She swung back by to whisper into Laura's ear, "Don't you dare tell Lynnette I said that." Then she was gone, leaving the two Sabinal women in utter shock. Laura's mother was silent for the rest of her visit, which only lasted as long as her coffee. As she thrust open her sensible black paraguas against the San Franciso rain Lidia Sabinal was only heard to mutter something like "Locos todos locos."

Laura's mother again showed up in the running dream that night but this time the matron was mute, the father even more welcoming and the mounted chief on the hill seemed to shine blessings down on his young descendent.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Laura opened her apartment door because the voice said she was Nicole. "Laura, thank God you're here, girl!" she said.

What is it, Nicole? Is Nick bothering you again?

"He's back with me, girl, but he's changed. He was so sorry, and girl, he begged me to take him back. And he's bein' good. He even paid for the furniture damage. No, it's Alice, girl. She's out of her head.

Laura knew Alice had just had the surgery. "I thought she'd still be in the clinic," she told Nicole, "Didn't she have the operation yesterday?"

"She had it but Dr. Jones let her go home today. He's got her hopped up on all kinds of pain killers and stuff. Girl, she's talkin' in her sleep and makin' bad jokes, not makin' much sense. Alice Geary and this little Australian guy's in there with her to keep her company. Anyway, she wants to see you before she drops off to sleep again."

Laura followed Nicole down to Alice's apartment. Alice Sutter, in her bed, was flanked to her right by Alice Geary and Jay Church sitting in the two miss-matched chairs.

"Laura! Please come in," greeted the genetic Alice, "Alice, look, it's Laura."

Alice Sutter said weakly, "Laura? Let me see you."

You'd think she was on her deathbed, Laura thought unsympathetically, but she took her friend's hand and squeezed it gently. Laura couldn't help but notice the many bottles of pills on Alice's night stand, and she couldn't help scanning the labels.

"Now that Laura's here, I'm off, girl," said Nicole.

"'Night, Nicole," said Alice G.

"Good to meet you," said Jay Church, the punk gentleman.

"Good night," said Laura as Nicole eased the door closed behind herself. Laura turned to the infirmed one. "Alice, I dropped by Dr. Jones's clinic yesterday but the duty nurse said you were sleeping and probably wouldn't be able to have visitors for a few days."

Alice was in her own fog. "Just making room for the next contestant. April Washington's under the knife a week early. Time to move on...April Washington, come on down. You're the next contestant on 'The Price Is Right'!"

Laura was concerned. "Are you taking all these pills?" she asked.

"One pill at a time...Sometimes two...or three..."

"I'm no doctor, Alice, but I'm not sure all these should be taken together."

"Well, I'm feeling no pain...Flying high and feeling no pain."

"We're watching her to make sure she doesn't over do it," Alice Geary assured Laura, "and she doesn't really require a lot of nursing--just someone to change her catheter bag once in a while. She sleeps most of the time anyway."

"And next week Dr. Jones will take away the catheter," said the voice in the fog, "so I can pee pee like the rest of the girls."

Laura winced when Alice said "pee pee". She wasn't sure why. Then Alice sang, justifying the next wince.

"They can't take that away from me," Alice sang from the George and Ira Gershwin songbook, "...Well, they did take THAT away from me," she laughed, "Good riddance."

"Jay," Laura changed the subject and her focus, "I didn't know you knew Alice."

"I met Jay through Kay Ingleside," Alice Sutter said coherently, and then losing all coherence, "Jay through Kay...I'm back in the office filing...J, K, L-M-N-O-P...Gotta pee...Don't get up. Bag's not full. Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full...Three bags full today...tomorrow the world..."

"Alice, you know Kay Ingleside?" Laura should have known Alice was gone into the dream time, even though she was even less Australian than Jay was.

"I think she's dozing off again," Alice Geary told them.

"Maybe I'd better leave now," said Laura, relieved the visit was over.

Alice Sutter suddenly awoke and spoke up, as if continuing a different conversation from earlier in the day, and perhaps she was. "So I swear I woke up in the middle of the surgery, and it was done mostly. So I said--still under general anesthesia, you understand--so I said, 'It won't be LONG now...'"

Alice S. chuckled to herself while Laura took up her wincing again. "'Not LONG now...,'" she repeated, and then dozed off again.

"I gotta go too," decided Jay, standing, "Nice to know you, Alice G. Tell Alice S. I'll talk to her later--when she's alright. You know."

"I'll tell her," promised Alice G.

Alice S., the undead among them, sprang to life again. "Well, I know they dropped the rest of it on the floor, see. 'Oops,' Dr. Jones said. And so I said, 'Don't worry, Doc, that's the way the ball bounces."

Alice the Zombie laughed at her own joke, Laura winced again and headed for the door, and Jay cleared his throat nervously. "'Or was it 'balls bounce'?," Alice continued, "Need to work on that one..." She was then out of it again.

Jay and Laura beat their hasty retreat out the door leaving the two Alice's behind in Wonderland. However, they did not get very far down the hall before Alice Sutter's voice rang out with another bon mot. "It was nip and tuck there for a while!" she yelled laughing, "Nip and tuck!"

Jay took Laura aside near the stairs. "I didn't want to say nothin' in there with Alice G. not knowin' you-know-what," he said, "Alice...Alice S., that is...Alice told Kay she could get me in good with her doc. Crikey, mine's a real slug, you know. Ain't doin' a thing for me."

"Be careful, Jay," Laura warned him, "Dr. Jones is...Well, you see how he's got Alice all doped up and out of the hospital too soon."

"That's Alice, not me. I can handle Doc Jones, long as he gives me what I need."

"Just be careful."

"Crikey! I'm twenty-one now, Laura. I'm legal everywhere."

"I know," Laura said.

Laura thought of herself as legal too, or on her way to legality. In the early Twenty-first Century, though, she was not yet a first class citizen in so many ways. Because of the events of September 11, 2001, she could not even go to Canada or Mexico. Well, she could but what name would be on her passport? And she could legally change her name but the passport would still have to read "Male". Why was the United States of America, the home of the brave and the land of the free, so loathe to bestow equal human rights on all its people? Did they still have to slog it out in the courts: now by race, now by sex, now by sexual orientation, now by gender identification? Why did Americans, of all people, always need someone to look down on? For a classless society there was an awful lot of snobbery around, it seemed to Laura. The Equal Rights Amendment was not ratified in the early 1980s, Laura concluded, just because the general populace was afraid they would be required to be fair to groups of people they didn't even know existed. So much for progress.

Laura knew who she was, and would always know who she was, even if the world did not. In the time of bellbottoms and afros her dream, her one constant dream, finally confirmed her resolve. One night her dream father and dream mother were arguing about her identity.

The Chief, Laura's ancestor stepped down majestically from his horse and called out to the parents with a sage and booming voice, "Enough!"

"You can speak," marveled Laura's dream self.

"Yes, Laura."

"Great-great-grandfather, you called me Laura."

"For that is your true name. I had many names in my life. I had one name when I was born, another when I became a warrior, and...I took on another to escape being driven to the white man's reservation. I knew the Spanish tongue and the ways of the charro so I became Hector Sabinal and worked on a Texas ranch. I told no one of my Comanche past, not my wife or our children. Only in letters to our grandchildren did I reveal the truth. I survived and my children survived and my children's children down to you. (takes off his head dress) You call me Chief, but you know I am not a chief, and I am no longer worthy of the name "warrior". I was always secretly ashamed I did not fight the white man and die a Comanche. I always knew my true self even when I ran from it. You must not run from yourself. But you know you are Laura. You know you must fight to be Laura at all costs. The dreaming is ending. Come, Laura. It is time for you to join with your dream self and be one."

Laura did not need her forefather's blessing or permission or validation, but still, it was a nice dream. In those days, and in the latter days of her life, the memory of that dream was really all she had.

At "Her Majesty's Restaurant" one afternoon Laura was replaying the dream in her mind even while Lynnette Powell was scolding her in the waking world.

"I can't believe you gave that quack's rent-a-shrink a hundred bucks," Lynnette told her, "What possessed you to do that?"

"Dr. Jones may have an iffy reputation, but I've only heard the best things about Dr. Lombard. I needed a psychological evaluation, that's all."

"Laura, those two work hand-in-glove. Lombard is as crooked as they come."

"You're thinking of the street. He said that I was a prime candidate for surgery."

"Of course he did. Your check cleared."

"Actually, I paid cash. Don't worry. I just saw Dr. Jones and Dr. Lombard to get Alice and Tiffany off my back. Besides, I understand Dr. Lombard's word has as much weight with the university program as it does with Dr. Jones."

"I hope you're right about that. After what you told me about your former roommate I would have thought you'd keep your distance from Dr. Jones and company."

"Look, I'm not like Alice. She has no self-control. That's why she has a friend keeping tabs on her drug in-take. But I know what I'm doing. I won't let anyone talk me into anything."

"Is she healing at all? How long has it been?"

"It's been almost a month now. Alice is doing a lot better--except she makes strange claims sometimes. She told me just the other day her body odor is changing. She says she smells like fresh bread dough."

"Probably a yeast infection."

"That's good. I might use that next time."

Someone passed the window of "Her Majesty's" outside in front of them.

"I know her," Laura said, taking bills from her purse and setting them on the table, "I need to catch her, Lynnette. See you later."

It was Jamey, the wayward daughter of Terry No Last Name. Laura caught her just before the street corner.

"Jamey?"

"Oh God," said Jamey, knowing the jig was up.

"Your mother's been looking all over for you."

"Please don't tell her you saw me."

"What about your father?"

"I don't want to see my mother. You think I want my uptight Dad to know what I've been doing?"

"Look. It's none of my business, but I think they just want to know you're not dead."

"I wish I was dead. Maybe I'll get lucky and die in childbirth."

"You're pregnant? Oh boy."

"Yeah...Well, it was nice running into you. I've gotta go."

"Where?"

"Who knows? Who cares?"

"I do. I'm sure your mom does too."

"I don't know. I'm just tired. It's stupid but I wish I could go back and start over. I'd even get a job if it wasn't too late. Anyway, I can't let her see me like this."

"I'd let you clean up at my place, but your mother and Arvis would catch you...I've got an idea. We'll give it a try anyway. Come with me."

Laura took Jamey by the hand back into the restaurant where Pat Grant was pouring a coffee refill for Lynnette.

"This is my landlady's daughter. Pat, you could use some help around here, couldn't you?"

"Always," said Pat, "I could talk to my boss. You talking about your little friend here? She might not pass the health code."

"She'll clean up okay," said Laura, "That's where Lynnette comes in."

"Me?" asked Lynnette.

"If you could take her in for a day or two. Let her clean up. We'll get her some decent clothes."

"A couple of days?" asked Lynnette, "Then what?"

"Then she'll be presentable enough to see her mother, and maybe eventually her father."

"Now wait a minute."

"It's up to you, but you know your mother will take you in."

"Even with a baby coming?"

"The plot thickens," Lynnette said.

"What do you think, Jamey?" Laura asked her.

"Yeah. I just tell her I got pregnant by some boy and was afraid to go home--easiest thing in the world."

"No offense intended, but your mom's not exactly Mrs. America herself."

"I guess not."

"You got some clothes for her?" Pat asked Lynnette.

"I have some that might fit her."

"That would be just fine if she was going to work at the Pebble Beach pro shop," Pat quipped.

"Just what are you saying, Pat?" Lynnette wanted to know.

"I have a daughter about your size," Pat told Jamey, "I'll get you something."

"I don't know what to say."

"Say 'Thank you'," said Pat, "and don't let us down."

Maybe other people do have problems, Laura thought. She amazed herself at how she was able to take charge of the situation, and that Lynnette and Pat were so agreeable to her plan. Also, Jamey was ready to come in from the cold. That helped. Maybe not all problems were intractable. Lonely, at her computer at the University of the Gulf in the Twenty-first Century, Laura tried to remember that. She was over sixty but her life was not over, and whenever she had found herself in a rut, all through her life, something happened to propel her forward.

Alice Sutter fairly pounced on Laura ascending the apartment house stairs. Laura thought her former roommate would have been recuperating still.

"Alice, how are you?" Laura said, "Sorry I haven't been down to see you much since your recovery."

"I'm great. I'm driving my Volkswagen stick shift again, clutching you know." Alice seemed okay.

"Congratulations."

"On your way out?" Alice asked her.

"I'm meeting my friend Lynnette for lunch."

"Should you be eating this close to your surgery? Tomorrow is your Monday, right?"

"Alice, I never committed to the surgery with Dr. Jones. I'll wait for the University program just like I've planned all along."

"But you got Dr. Lombard's psychiatric evaluation."

"Yes but that's as close as I get to Dr. Jones."

"I see..." Alice said slyly, "Oh the reason I tried to catch you is that yesterday I got one of your letters by mistake again."

Laura accepted the letter whose flap was mysteriously loose. "It's from the University...Did you steam it open?"

"What do you think of me? Besides, I don't need to read it. I know a lot of girls who got that letter this week."

"What do you mean?"

Alice executed the full-court press. "Dr. Jones is waiting at his clinic. And you'll need your umbrella. It's raining pretty hard out there. Bye now."

Alice limped down the stairs to her floor as Laura slid the letter from the envelop and read it.

"Dear Gender Program Candidate," it read, "It is with great regret that the University Gender Dysphora Clinic must announce its closing due to the recent termination of funding by the University's Board of Governors..." Laura scanned down the page. "A list of appropriate clinic and hospital gender programs follows..." She scanned ahead once more."Again, we regret this situation and wish all our candidates the best of luck..." Laura wadded the paper violently and tossed it down the stairwell. "I'll make my own luck," she said.

It was too dark for six o'clock when Laura, her umbrella trying to stay open against the wind, power walked past "Her Majesty's Restaurant" like a runaway locomotive, almost knocking Lynnette Powell aside.

"Slow down, Laura," Lynnette said, "You're here already. Come in out of the rain."

"Sorry, Lynnette, I didn't see you there. I've got other business now. See you in a week or so."

"Laura, what are you talking about? Laura? Laura?"

As Laura neared Dr. Jones' office a man in a trenchcoat appeared out of the rain behind her. He took her right arm in both of his hands.

"What do you say we get in out of the rain until all this blows over?" he said.

"What?" She tried to pull away.

He was in her face. "I remember you. Over here in this doorway..." He pulled her into an alley doorway and uncovered a long- handled box cutter hanging on a loop of his raincoat liner. Before Laura knew what was happening the man had her back against the door with the handle of the box cutter across her throat. She didn't think, she just reacted, stamping his foot, grabbing the wooden handle and slapping it against his head. Laura should have taken the box cutter but she might not have wrestled it from him. She did run, though, in the direction of Dr. Jones' office.

It was the businessman who had groped her in "The Make" and she now knew he was the Tenderloin Slasher. He was not far behind her as she dodged a cable car at a steep intersection. The car jerked to a stop, and she thought to get on it unseen. However, the old trolley was bursting at the seems with rain-drenched tourists and locals, including, she thought briefly, one Jay Church. The exodus of humanity flooded from the car and pushed her back, right into the arms of the slasher.

He pulled her along with him. "You're not going anywhere. Think you're pretty, don't you, freak?"

Now cold steel poked the man's back and a welcomed Australian brogue barked orders to him.

"Drop it, mate," said Jay Church, "Drop it now. Now!" Jay jabbed his umbrella point harder in the man's back. "Now let the lady go."

The businessman held his hands in the air. "You know, I don't think that's a gun at all."

"Laura," called Jay, his umbrella extended about eye level, "run get the cops!"

The slasher spun around and grabbed the paraguas. "I thought so. Brave little boy, aren't you?"

Jay bounced up and head butted the creep. "Run, Laura, goddamn it!" The creep fell back and Laura kicked his left calf from under him.

"Go!" said Jay, taking the box cutter from the assailant, "I got him." Laura dashed for a pay phone but caught the side of a moving cablecar. "Laura!" Jay called.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Thirty years on, that day was a blur to Laura. Thank God for Jay Church. He not only saved her from the slasher, he saved her from herself, her own haste. When she thought of it now it seemed like a dream. She still confused that day with the day of her ultimate surgery, which actually came some nine months later. She had had a hairline fracture in her left hip and she was black and blue almost to her knee. She had lost a couple of weeks of work, and was in constant pain for six more. It set her back financially but she had insurance. The fund for THE operation was still intact.

The University did discontinue the Gender Identity program but the surgeons involved formed a private clinic loosely associated with the university hospital, loosely enough to avoid political controversy for the board of governors. Laura Sabinal finally went under the knife and Jay often came to visit her in her flat when she was lucid enough. She hardly saw Alice Sutter, though Alice Geary came to call a few times. Nicole was a great help bringing soup and asperin and a stent which she stole from Dr. Jones' supply cabinet. The stent was to fill the new vagina during the healing process so that it did not close up. At least that is what the original stent was for. Nicole's gift was larger and expanded the passageway considerably after the original had served its purpose.

In a year or so, Laura felt it was time to leave the Bay Area cocoon and take off for the real world. And so began her life's odyssey, the trek that pinballed her from one town to the next looking for home. New Orleans came close for the longest time until Hurricane Katrina chased her west again. Hurricane Rita did minimal damage to Galveston and Laura tried it there again. In 2008, though, Hurricane Gustav did in Laura's seaside aspirations. She would need to take her daydreams and her hopes back to the high desert. Defying her mother's orders, at least in spirit, Laura made right for New Mexico. She took no dusty road trip by car or bus this time, she flew over those deserts which become progressively hot and dismall from east to west--Chihuahua, Sonora, Mohave--now in the opposite direction. She soon got a job in a small publishing house in Taos and eventually had some books of poetry printed up--her more vague and environmentally-oriented stuff--with brightly colorful covers. She sold them from time to time at street fairs.

Laura knew it was only a matter of time before her mother found her. It was a sunny Saturday morning and she was holding forth at a shaded table during the High Desert Arts Festival. Laura first heard the familiar voice--perhaps a bit shaky, perhaps a bit more frail than she remembered--before she looked up to see her mother's resigned but disapproving features. Time had not been unkind, just long.

"Oh God. It's you," her mother exclaimed.

"I'm glad to see you too, Mom."

"I thought you promised never to come home."

"This is Taos, not Santa Fe. I could ask what you're doing here."

"I thought I'd shop for a painting for the livingroom...and your father told me you'd be here...I can't believe you actually went through with it."

"I told you all along I would. Besides that's old news, half my lifetime ago."

"What I'll never understand is why you would want to do this. Didn't we raise you properly?"

"It has nothing to do with raising, I'm sure of that. No one really knows the cause. But this is who I am, Mom. Try to understand. Try to be happy for me. I am."

"As your mother, I am glad you were not murdered back there in San Francisco. Never think your mother doesn't care."

"I know."

"I suppose your father and I could move to Montana or Alaska or some such place..."

"Mom, please. You'll be fine too. Here. Have one of my books. Not only do I work at Porfirio Publications but they've published my first book of poetry."

"No thank you. I know your subject matter."

"These are my nature poems. I'm told they're not bad."

The mom read "Seagull Morning" aloud, "I fly to the dawning sun..."